Imagine, for a moment, that you have just taken over as the area manager for a large company in a large town. A part of your role demands that you introduce yourselves to key government functionaries in the area. One of these functionaries happens to be the Inspector of the police station nearest to you.
So, one fine day, you walk across, enter the police station, and ask for the Inspector. He makes you wait, but he does meet you. He is looking puzzled because he does not know what you want. He cannot believe that you just wanted to introduce yourself. You sit for 5 minutes, make some small talk, and leave.
10 days later, you repeat the process. This time, the Inspector has a slight smile on his face. He even offers you a cup of tea.
And by the time you meet him for the third time, he is almost a friend.
But you cannot forget the look he had on his face the first time when all you wanted to do was introduce yourself.
Yes, that look was one of suspicion. Who on earth would walk into a police station just to say hello?
The same analogy holds true the first time you speak to or want to, meet a journalist.
The journalist is suspicious because he feels that you have gone to meet him purely for a story, without even knowing him.
It underlines the importance of building relationships with people in your ecosystem. And it holds true whether the person is a policeman or a journalist!
At the end of the day, a journalist is just another person, like you, trying to do her/ his job. And their job is to write stories not for you, but about you/ your company.
How do journalists ‘grow’ in their chosen profession? Through the number of bylines articles they write, the research they do and the relationships they maintain. Sounds familiar?
I recall the early days when it was often said that you could take a journalist to a good restaurant and get your work done. I had heard about it but have never really practised it. It always went against my grain.
All of us in the communications profession deal in information, and information is what a journalist seeks. So, start by sharing information about your company with journalists. You will find that they will be interested in some of the information you share and ask for more. When you do provide it, it normally will result in a ‘story’.
Given the importance of the byline, I always used to provide information about my organisation to journalists, more so to the ones just starting in their careers, just so that they could do something exclusive and get a byline. Try it sometime. It works.
Journalists always also work to a deadline. Like all of us. Therefore, very often, their request for a response from your company comes at very short notice.
I recall a time when a few communication people had complained to the editor of India’s largest business daily, saying that the journalists from his publication hardly gave any notice to get a response. He was very gracious, and in fact, sent a mail to his entire team, saying that every corporate must be given between 24-36 hours’ notice for responding to a query.
But like so many things around us that have been disrupted by the digital onslaught, so too has journalism.
If you follow a news cycle, tomorrow’s headlines in any publication are never breaking news. They have already featured on someone’s Twitter handle or Insta, or even on the news portal of any publication.
This change is not the only one. Today deadlines have ceased to exist, which in turn, has encouraged speculative and at times fake news. Which has given birth to the fact-checking industry☺.
Many of the rules of engagement have changed. But that does not mean that relationships have stopped existing. I have heard so many journalists cribbing that they get spammed by press releases being sent by mail, by people they do not even know. To add insult to injury, the person from the communications firm follows the mail with a call asking if the release has been received.
Is it so much trouble for those who have recently joined the communications profession to do a little more homework, and go on a media round, so that they at least know who the journalist is, and the beat she/ he is covering? Guys, please do your homework on the journalist, as they do on your company.
The problem as I see it is in the ‘instant world’ we have come to live in. Everything must be done NOW. People forget that for any journalist to do any story, the information shared must be relevant. That is not new and has always been the case.
Today, I see reams being written about ‘content-marketing’, ‘relevancy’ and ‘storytelling’. And I hear new words like ‘cohort’
But hardly anything about the importance of relationships.
I would also like to touch upon the subject of ‘gratification’, as far as media goes. I know those who have made this into an art form, but it has always been on my forbidden list. We like to differentiate between giving a gift voucher from any leading supermarket chain, and other forms of gratification. But honestly, there is no difference.
Instead, try gratifying a journalist with something which will always stand them in good stead – timely, and accurate information. Proactively, if possible. I am not for a moment suggesting that you start sharing confidential or privileged information, but whatever you share should be something which will help the journalist do a better story.
Avoid denials unless there are regulatory reasons. Simply because more than 80% of stories which are denied are true and you will find yourself on the back foot and having to issue more denials!
Focus on being accurate and truthful, and never underestimate the power of relationships.
Today, there is no place to run or hide.
Not even the nearest police station!
- Never underestimate the power of relationships.
- Appreciate that every journalist is like you – trying to do her/ his job.
- Share timely, and accurate information with them. They will appreciate that.
- Try to get to know the journalist before you start spamming mailboxes.
The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.