(20 Steps to) Effective Media Relations

The first step to effective media relations is shaking off the notion that editors and reporters are the enemy. Sure they may not be the best at returning phone calls and emails, and occasionally turn their nose up at your pitch, but get them alone in a dark alley, and they’ll admit to needing you just as much as you need them.

Even when you’re doing the chasing, they’re still the ones that have to turn in a good story at the end of the day. If you want to be that story, you better be sure it’s a darn good one. Because you aren’t the only one who overcome an obstacle, rose to fortune and fame, hit a home run, or any other overused euphemism you’ve typed out in a press release.

Nor, have you been the only person/company to have a negative light shed on you. Sticking it to the media is equally as detrimental to building relationships as a cloying email, social media post or face-to-face gush-a-thon. If you don’t want to scare a reporter away, lose the whining or fawning. And by all means, do not demand to see the story before it goes to print. Unless it’s paid editorial (advertorial or sponsored post), or you’re a government official, there’s no obligation for the writer to show you the story beforehand. You CAN politely ask for fact-checking—spelling, dates, URLs, etc. But trying to mold what’s technically a third-party story, is not going to fly.

When it comes to working with the media, there are very specific rules of engagement. I won’t pretend that I’ve never made a wrong move, or muttered a few unkind words about a specific reporter for copping an attitude, but the longer I have been on the other side (what we editorial flag wavers call The Dark Side), the more I realize that exhibiting certain sensibilities and following time-tested guidelines makes all the difference in not only getting the media’s attention, but forming a long-term relationship that can benefit you/your company in good times or bad. My humble advice below. Read. Learn. Implement.

1. Be open and cooperative.
The truth always rises to the top. Don’t lie.

2. Personalize your organization.
You’re not on a job interview. Show a little personality.

3. Good stories get attention.
Test your pitch out on a couple different people. Listen to their comments. If they’re not excited about your pitch, the media won’t be either.

4. Respond quickly (or lose your opportunity).

5. “No comment,” is just a dumb thing to say. As is, “off the record.”
What have you ever said that hasn’t come back to haunt you? Be straightforward and don’t dodge tough questions.

6. Don’t bullsh-t. It has never worked in anyone’s favor.

7. It’s OK to not have all the answers.
It makes you more likable to say so, and to offer a follow-up interview or to address that question in an upcoming blog post.

8. Skip the second cup of coffee (on interview day).
You’ll have plenty of nervous energy.

9. Roads ramble; you shouldn’t. Not on camera, at least.

10. All reporters are created equal.
Maybe not at the same moment or on the same day, but if someone is spending their valuable time to hear your story, don’t snub them. They could be running The New York Times one day.

11. Don’t kid yourself, there’s nothing good about bad PR.

12. Trash-talking the competition has no benefit to you/your company.
Let them fall on their own. You just focus on telling your story. And, do it humbly.

13. Know where you stand in the big world picture.
Most of us are not saving lives or finding cures for disease, and there will always be bigger, more relevant stories to compete against.

14. The media isn’t a dartboard: Know who and where you are pitching.
Targeted pitching isn’t hard but it is time consuming. pitching to a specific writer and section makes you look media savvy

15. Be prepared.
Think ahead about how you can proactively get your messages across in an interview.

16. The press has its own deadlines. Don’t ask them to meet yours.
Long-lead publications work several months in advance, and even bloggers keep content schedules. Know your timing and give yourself a 3-month window.

17. Know why others should care about your story.
And be able to say it in 30 seconds (or 140 characters).

18. Unless a reporter comes to you, it’s not their job to come up with an angle for your story.

19. Know the difference between “perseverance” and “pest.”

20. You don’t control the message.
People are going to perceive what they hear in different ways. Even one body language misstep can leave your audience with a negative impression. All you can do is deliver that message as intelligently, concisely, humbly and passionately as possible.


Dawn Elyse Warden-Reeder

A former lifestyles magazine editor and reporter covering an array of topics including philanthropy and business, health and well-being, sustainability, fashion, music and food, Dawn entered the public relations and social media field in 2010 as Executive Partner of The Whole Enchilada PR, now the culinary division of The Warden Ettinger Group. You can find Dawn on LinkedIn and Twitter (@eatDEWwrite).

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