Is Crafting the Message > Building the Relationship?

In PR, relationships are imperative to success, but telling truthful and compelling stories on behalf of your client is what the job is all about. If that is done correctly, relationships will simply form naturally.

I interviewed some of our Caster Crew members for their point of view regarding the concept of relationships vs. storytelling in terms of where the industry is headed. Here’s what they had to say:

As industries change and journalists move around, is it becoming difficult to maintain relationships?

“No, it’s not difficult to maintain relationships but you always have to be building new ones.” — Kimberly Lancaster, president, Caster Communications

“It isn’t necessarily becoming more difficult, but the tactics to do so have changed because journalists jump around a lot more, and there is a heavier use of freelancers. We must cultivate deeper connections with people of all tiers, because you never know when someone in a small, regional role might suddenly start covering tech for a top tier publication.” — Ashley Daigneault, vice president, Caster Communications

“The tech industry is small enough where even if a journalist leaves one publication, they often pop up somewhere else within the space. Much of the time we end up working with them in either the same, or another mutually-beneficial capacity.” — Erin Phillips, account manager, Caster Communications

What are the best approaches to maintaining relationships with journalists?

“Given I communicate with some journalists as much, if not more, than the people in my personal life it only makes sense to build friendships with them. I maintain relationships with journalists the same way I maintain relationships with co-workers, family, and my circle of friends. I like to get to know them as people because it’s fun to find common interests and not always discuss work. Social media is a great tool for that.” — Erin Phillips

“One of the ways I’ve been able to maintain deep media relationships is by engaging with them in ways not relative to pitching. Find other interests you can talk about besides work. Do you and the press person share a hobby? If so, comment on that when they share it socially. Add to conversations that are not exclusively about work or your client. A lot of the press I follow are witty and funny, they often have good-takes on pop-culture too. Don’t be afraid to engage with them on those topics.” — Pete Girard, account supervisor, Caster Communications

“Be authentic, responsive, and cognisant of their time. I think a lot of PR people just want to “spray-and-pray’ their way into coverage, instead of spending the time researching and getting to know a journalist’s beat and general interests first, and the results speak for themselves. Also, always make sure you’re able to get responses and materials to journalists on deadline. I’ve had a lot of journalists tell me how refreshing it was to work with a PR person that simply respected their time, needs and deadlines. — Alex Gil, account supervisor, Caster Communications

Any good PR pro will tell you that in order to build a relationship, you have to stay in touch without always asking for a story. I think that trying to find a common interest is a good approach to help build a relationship outside of just pitching and staying in touch on Twitter makes this approachable and easier.” — Laura Shubel, account executive, Caster Communications

How have you handled situations where your client’s idea was wrong?

“The positioning back to the client isn’t that it’s wrong, but that in order for the writer and their audience to be interested, there needs to be more substance to the story, so we have to reframe it and/or target appropriate journalist(s). In general terms, clients will look at their news story with a myopic lens, and one that often benefits them. I have found that if you write the headline and intro to the story you believe works for the media outlet and serves the client, you can often get the client onboard, or together you develop an even better story.” — Kimberly Lancaster

“Sometimes clients have trouble thinking outside of the box and understanding that sometimes there just isn’t an appetite for certain announcements. I came up with a list of four things you need to have or deliver to get big mainstream coverage and I review it with every client when we launch so they understand that getting top tier placements is a two-way street, and I need them to work hard alongside me and give me stuff I can really use.” — Ashley Daigneault

“Oftentimes, we try to negotiate this with a client before it gets to the point of pitching. There is a certain level of trust clients put in us as industry professionals who know what press that will write the stories that will matter to them. But we will always work to help clients understand why we think a story isn’t a great fit for them, and spend the time brainstorming a creative angle that will be a great fit. — Alex Gil

Sometimes clients come to us with stories that aren’t ready yet, or need a little brainstorming to make them happen. A new feature on a product might not be newsworthy on its own, but we can work on making it a story or create content that the media will bite on. If a client has enabled a new use case, or has a customer testimonial, we can craft a story or a case study that can be used as pitch ammunition for editorial inclusions. Some stories might need a little build up, but it’s great when our clients do something exciting that’s already set to make headlines.” — Laura Shubel

Was there ever a time in your career where you can honestly say the relationship landed you the coverage?

“Many times. We’ve had journalists call when on deadline when someone else didn’t deliver and they knew we were the only ones who could turn something around in under an hour; we’ve been a quote source (for clients) because the reporter called directly to get an opinion; we’ve made national TV news segments at CES because we’ve built relationships with producers for those segments, and producing at CES is incredibly difficult so having reliable PR people is probably half the battle; and we’ve had the reporter who wanted to make sure we know about a story opportunity so a client wouldn’t be left out. It’s what it’s all about.” — Kimberly Lancaster

“Several big stories in my career have come from cultivated relationships. And in some cases, the person I was friendly with went somewhere else, and then we had a whole new opportunity at their new job and that one person turned into several opportunities for the client.” — Ashley Daigneault

“Absolutely. One of the most rewarding things about being a good friend and reliable resource for my journalist friends is that when an opportunity presents itself, they automatically think of me first. This is because they know they will get exactly what they need when they need it. I’ve landed big wins for my clients in times where a journalist is up against a deadline and needs content ASAP, or another brand pulled out of a piece last minute and the publication needs to fill the space with little time to spare. — Erin Phillips

“Yes! Just like PR isn’t an “overnight” thing, relationships take time to build but I have certainly gotten clients placed in roundups or articles as a result having a good relationship with a press person. It’s not an immediate thing but I think having the relationship definitely positively impacts a good PR person’s ability to land coverage.” – Pete Girard

“There have been lots of times in my career where the relationship helped me land the coverage — even if it wasn’t necessarily with that particular press person. The connections you make with press can also lead to introductions with new press that then write the story we’re pitching for a client. There have been several times where I’ve reached out to a press person I’m friendly with to see if they’d be interested in a story, and they’ve then introduced me or recommended me to a colleague of theirs that I then have ended up working with. Building successful relationships with press can go beyond your expectations if they’re genuine and you are ensuring that you’re nurturing them closely. — Alex Gil

I’d love to hear some outside thoughts on this topic. What do you think about the whole thing? Do you work in PR, or have a similar story to tell? Send me a message on Twitter to discuss further!

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