Why the human element of media relations matters
It’s not always easy to befriend the so-called “media beast.”
Some reporters can be disagreeable, difficult or even despicable at times.
Some journalists view PR practitioners as untrustworthy flacks or empty
mouthpieces preaching the company gospel.
Nevertheless, all PR pros should be mindful of the human element in media
relations to foster more positive press—now more than ever because fewer PR pros
are honoring it. In the modern digital age, some millennials rely too much
on social media and electronic communication alone. They would rather
converse with reporters via Facebook than meet face-to-face.
However, one of the most crucial aspects of mastering media relations is
fostering mutually beneficial relationships with key journalists. Hence,
the word “relations” after “media” to encapsulate this overriding point.
Maybe there will always be generational differences in communications
strategy. Nevertheless, practicing effective media relations should always
involve proactively reaching out on a personal and professional level.
How much do you know about those in the media who cover your company or
client? Further, how do you ensure that media relations are non-adversarial
and mutually beneficial?
The answers could dictate your ultimate PR success or failure. Thus, a good
start to maximizing media relations is proactively forging positive
For example, try getting to know journalists on a basic human level. This
goes a long way toward building mutual respect, goodwill and trust—all of
which are essential elements of any good relationship.
Forget about the “us versus them” mentality. Get out of the trenches and
meet reporters in person. Get to know them on a professional and personal
How reporters use social media in their jobs]
It’s important to recognize that most reporters are decent people.
Most professional journalists are more than merely TV “talking heads” or
bylines on a page. They are real people who deserve sincere respect and
recognition for a job well done, as warranted and appropriate.
When a reporter does a good job, let him or her know it. Be respectful when
errors are made or clarifications are needed. Don’t be a constant
complainer because you deem a story to be imperfect. Save your arguments
for when it really counts.
How can you get started?
Try getting out of your silo, leaving the trenches and meeting journalists
- Meet for breakfast, coffee or lunch.
- Visit their newsrooms.
- Give them an informal “off-the-record” tour of your organization.
- Introduce them to your executives.
Express genuine interest
Don’t forget that expressing genuine interest in a journalist can go a long
way to solidify positive relations. That’s why it pays dividends to go the
extra mile by learning some basic information about reporters. This can
lead to common ground and help build mutual trust. Consider these
- Where did the reporter go to college?
- What’s their home town?
- How did they first get into journalism and why?
Find sweet spots of common ground and build upon them.
Remember that personalizing media relations allows each party to view the
other as an individual rather than just part of a perceived adversarial
David is a strategic communications consultant, freelance writer and
former federal government spokesman based in the Washington, DC-area. A
native New Yorker, David was a journalist prior to his career of public
service. You can also find him on