When I was in college, I had a part-time job as a server at a restaurant. t was my first time working as a server. Despite this, I enjoyed it very much and felt that I had the knack for it. The job itself was simple. Greet the diner, tell them your name and that you’re here to help take their order, and capture what they would like to eat and drink.

Customer service was, is, and always will be, the name of the game in the food-service industry to ensure your customers/diners are happy and satisfied with the experience.

Fortunately for me, this type of thinking translates well with the media relations world, too.  So, how do we ensure that reporters and members of the media are getting what they need and are happy with the experience?

According to Wikipedia, media relations is defined as “working with media for the purpose of informing the public of an organization's mission, policies and practices in a positive, consistent and credible manner.” Sounds pretty straight forward. And, that’s because it is. What we public relations practitioners do is not rocket science. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. It’s just straight forward and if done well it can have a tremendous impact on your business.

If you’re looking to generate some good PR coverage for yourself or your organization, here are five steps to ensuring media relations success:

  1. Do your homework. You only have one chance to make a good first impression. Don’t blow it by sending a pitch that is way outside the reporter’s coverage area. The time that you can devote to reading up on a reporter’s beat and the types of stories they’re interested in, will be well worth the investment and you’ll be ahead of the game and lay the groundwork for a good relationship.
  2. Think like a reporter.  Before you send that pitch/email, truly stop for a moment and think about what you're offering to the reporter.  You want to create a narrative - i.e. story -  that isn’t entirely and blatantly self-serving but gives the reporter an angle, perspective, trend that they will realistically be interested in covering. Think of all the elements and assetsthat areporter will need - e.g. images, video, data, access to spokespeople, etc.
  3. Respond in a timely manner. In today’s 24/7 social media driven news cycle, speed is paramount and is of the utmost importance. Don’t let a timely news hook go to waste and don’t let a reporter’s inbound inquiry for sources go unanswered. At the very least acknowledge within the first half hour of receiving the email whether you intend to be a source or not. The key here is to be responsive either way. Think about how breaking news fits into your business, industry, landscape - think about its impact and offer a unique POV that the reporter can incorporate into their coverage of the news. This goes a long way in terms of relationship building.
  4. Become a valuable resource. Offer up yourself or other sources from your network that you feel may help the reporter do their job. For example, a reporter asked me if I knew of any sources who can comment on a story around cybersecurity. I didn’t have any clients at the time that were in this space, but I had a former client who was an expert in cybersecurity, and offered them up. The reporter spoke with the former client and included them in the story. Again, be a resource and spread the love.
  5. Meet them in person. As much as we all rely on social media to stay connected, there’s nothing that will ever replace in-person human interaction. Particularly if you’re trying to build a relationship, meeting face-to-face and getting to know one another is critical. I personally like it because it helps put a face to the voice or emails that are typically exchanged. The in-person meeting humanizes the relationship and takes it outside of just pitching. . It’s also a great opportunity to find out about what other interests/hobbies these journalists have as well as stories they are working on.

In closing, I’m sure there are other suggestions here that I haven’t offered up that you may think should be included, and deservedly so. But in the end, when it comes to media relations, we should keep service and experience top of mind and truly help our journalists friends in the media do the best job they can. Doing so will pay dividends in the months and years to come.

- John McCartney, Managing Director, West Coast

Note: This byline was first published on Bulldog Reporter.