An ex-journalist’s guide to media relations

By an account manager at Atmosphere Communications

Media relations are the cornerstone of public relations – but getting your clients positive media and social media exposure can be a challenging task. As a former journalist, here are my top tips and insights on how to deal with the media – gathered from media friends and the rock star pitchers at Atmosphere Communications. There are no shortcuts, but if you are diligent, you will get results.

An Account Manager at Atmosphere Communications
By an account manager at Atmosphere Communications
  • Research the media landscape you are operating in: Get to know the media, blogging and influencer landscapes relevant to your clients. Here’s a trick or two: Do a Google ‘news’ search on your client’s industry and see what pops up. Scan your entire media library and mark all relevant sections with post-it notes. Pull media contacts from as many sources as you can, including media buying agencies, monitoring services and media databases.
  • Navigate the turmoil in the media: Familiarise yourself with media news and shifts, including who is hiring and firing or cutting resources, what departments are affected and how, whose circulation is dropping or rising, who has tanked, and who is prioritising social and multimedia and how. In South Africa you can get your media news from, and
  • Find out how newsrooms really operate: You need to know what time your media contacts start and finish work, when they hold their news conferences, when their deadlines are, whether they are generally office bound or on the go, what the ideal timeslots are for pitching and interviews, how they like to be communicated with, and what their pressure points are. Also find out whether you should speak to the journalist or the editor directly, or if you should cc the editor, pictures editor or general news desk into emails to a particular journalist.
  • Know your production houses: If you are pitching to a TV programme, chances are you need to speak to a contracted production house and its producers. Find out their lead times and their preferred ways of working.
  • Make sure your news is relevant: Before you start to pitch, ask yourself whether your story, angle or interview opportunity is relevant to the readers or viewers of the particular column or broadcast slot? Would it be of interested to them and how?

Here are some useful tricks of the trade when pitching:

  • Do your homework and show attention to detail – journalists appreciate it. Position yourself as an expert.
  • Watch the news agenda, be ready to newsjack at any time.
  • Develop releases using the inverted pyramid, focussing on the ‘why’ when you pitch. Don’t use verbose language, keep it factual.
  • Most busy journalists prefer email pitches, but they’re also inundated, so you must use sexy subject lines and very strong mail intros.
  • Phoning is fine, but get your pitch across in 10 seconds and never call on deadline.
  • Offer story aids, both visual and factual.
  • Don’t pitch to multiple people in an organisation, but if you have to, be transparent. Duplication is a pet hate among journalists.
  • Create master media lists with notes columns so that you can quickly pull up top tier contacts and their likes and dislikes.
  • Block off quiet space to pitch your heart out and to do gentle follow-ups. Never stalk.
  • Be excited about the story, it’s infectious.
  • Use emotional intelligence – be human, considerate, humorous, courteous, authentic, reliable and conversational.
  • Start with the friendly journos, then move on to the heavy hitters once you’re more comfortable.
  • Personalise all communications.
  • Don’t confuse a product or brand push with a news angle.
  • Pitch expert clients, not just stories.
  • Take a page-by-page approach, and really check the media before you visualise your headlines.
  • You can bounce campaign ideas off media to check newsworthiness.
  • Avoid attachments, as they get trapped in spam filters, take up space, and can get overlooked or may not be trusted.
  • Provide hyperlinks to relevant information, such as your client’s website, or LinkedIn and Twitter profiles – even to previous articles on the same topic.
  • And then to conclude … be available at short notice, and make sure your client is too. There is nothing as exasperating for a journo who is interested, to hear that the media liaison person or the spokesperson is missing in action!