A Publicists Ultimate Guide to Strategic Media Relations 101
How can I use this media relations guide for my public relations campaign?
As a public relations strategist, I have handled media relations campaigns for companies for over a decade.
I wrote this expert guide for publicists looking to increase best practices and for clients looking to understand how the media really works to form better relationships with their PR firms. The one thing I see time and time again is the onboarding period and steep curve with people who are working with a PR firm for the first time.
“PR is SO much work. You never told me how much time this was going to take when I hired you!”
The goal of this guide is to help you navigate media relations so that you better understand how the media works. We believe that there should be no surprises when it comes to PR.
When there is transparency in the process of how the media really operates, PR clients can develop more realistic campaign expectations, and it can benefit your company by saving you hours of wasted time spinning your wheels trying to figure out why you spent time answering queries that no one is answering.
Plus, when you are more educated about how public relations works, you will have a better relationship with your PR agency. Too many clients/agencies have strained relationships and we believe it stems from the central problem of people not really understanding how the media works.
Too often, PR firms are blamed for things outside of their control.
In The Ultimate Guide to Media Relations, I am going to teach you:
- How the media works
- What the role of a PR firm is
- Client responsibilities when a PR firm is retained
- How to work with your PR firm so you get the best traction
- Media relations best practices
- Media Relations etiquette
PLUS learn how to answer questions from a reporter.
What is Media Relations?
Media relations is the specific practice of handling media requests with the press, while public relations refers to the management of a company’s relationship with the public and all external stakeholders. A Director Of Media Relations is responsible for all contact with the press on any earned media opportunities.
What is the difference between public relations and media relations?
Media relations is a subset of public relations.
For a long time, media relations was the largest component of PR because traditionally, the media were the primary, trusted gatekeepers to information. It took insider connections to get the media’s attention. All of that is still true today, but parts of it are very different.
The State of the PR Industry
Newsrooms are shrinking and social media has democratized the publishing of information. There are far more PR practitioners in the U.S. than journalists. According to Bloomberg, Public Relations jobs have exceeded those of reporters by more than a six-to-one ratio, significantly up from last year. According to data from the U.S. Census, the ratio was two-to-one 20 years ago.
PR professionals outnumber journalists by 6:1
This represents a 2x increase in 10 years.
While media relations is still part of the mix, it is usually a smaller component of most public relations plans. It is also significantly more challenging to get the attention of journalists than it ever has been before! That is why learning how to pitch the media and what makes a story newsworthy is so critical in today’s media landscape.
Journalists report receiving anywhere from 20-300 pitches from PR professionals per day. Many of these journalists also report only writing one article per day. See the discrepancy and why this is such a problem?
Technology has also had a significant impact on the field of media relations. As a result of social media and the rise of direct to consumer PR query services, you now have the ability to speak directly with the media. On the one hand this is a good thing. On the other, it further inundates journalists inboxes with pitches that are off base and go straight to their spam folder.
Journalism & PR employment statistics
What is the job outlook for Public Relations?
As newsrooms shrink, the PR industry grows.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics by the U.S. Department of Labor, “Employment of public relations specialists is projected to grow 6 percent from 2018 to 2028, about as fast as the average for all occupations. The need for organizations to maintain their public image will continue to drive employment growth.”
According to Harvard Business Review, the average worker receives 12,000 emails a year, while writers at top-tier publications receive 38,000 emails. Wow! Can you imagine being a journalist today and being bombarded with so many pitches?
According to Bloomberg, “Employment for public relations specialists will expand to 282,600 in 2026, up 9 percent from 2016, according to projections from the Labor Department. Meanwhile, jobs for reporters, correspondents and broadcast news analysts are forecast to decline 9 percent to 45,900 over the same period. For the news business, that would extend already sizable declines. Newsroom employment fell 23 percent to 88,000 from 2008 to 2017, with the number of newspapers dropping 45 percent to 39,000, according to a Pew Research Center study.”
This is a serious problem for your media relations efforts, especially if you are trying to do this yourself. Journalists are increasingly frustrated with their inboxes being blown up by PR professionals, and PR professionals are finding it harder to land their clients digital ink.
WHY YOU NEED MEDIA RELATIONS
Media relations is the most critical part of a PR campaign. Other public relations activities such as community outreach can be mastered without intricate knowledge of how the media works. However, media relations is the most specialized component of public relations. In order to understand why you need media relations, you first need to understand how publicists and journalists work together on stories and segments.
How do publicists and journalists work together?
Journalists and publicists work closely together on interviews, articles, and broadcast segments. Good publicists can make journalists lives easier when they are on deadline by providing access to interview opportunities with subject matter experts and key opinion leaders that may otherwise be hard to reach. Additionally, PR firms have access to media contacts that many people do not have. While you certainly could try to foster these relationships on your own, it would take a considerable amount of time, effort and media savviness to navigate the changing landscape.
MEDIA RELATIONS JOB DESCRIPTION
What does a media relations agency do?
A media relations agency is responsible for handling all interview coordination between the source and the media.
So, what does a media relations specialist do and what does the job entail?
A media relations specialist is responsible for handling all incoming media inquiries for a corporation. There are several variations of the job title, which can often appear as:
- Press contact
- Media contact
- Director of PR
- Director of Media Relations
A media relations specialist makes sure a journalist receives requested high-resolution images or a sources executive biography. They are also responsible for making sure your PR efforts aren’t sabotaged to ensure your best chance of coverage in the media. Ideally, a trusted media relations specialist provides authoritative sources to journalists and producers who are on quick turnaround times or tight deadlines. Publicists and media relations specialists understand the sense of urgency that comes with deadlines and filing stories and are able to give the media what they need fast.
THE IMPORTANCE OF MEDIA RELATIONS
Why is media relations important for strategic public relations?
Journalists and producers are working on several different stories and segments at any given time and your client is not always their top priority.
If you don’t understand media relations and PR etiquette, you run the risk of never being quoted in that media outlet again. If a journalist has a bad experience with a source, they may be likely to share that negative experience with other journalists. Is that really how you want to be perceived simply because you didn’t take the time to understand the language of the media or how things work?
There are so many intricacies that go into Public Relations. PR is an art. It is a craft. This is often why I do not recommend DIY Public Relations. When pitching is handled through a Media Relations Agency, the communication is often clearer, and the ball doesn’t get dropped. Often times, a PR firm may go back and forth with a journalist up to 20 times fact-checking a one line quote in an article. After the fourth or fifth email, people who attempt the DIY PR route usually stop replying to the journalist and risk getting cut from the story entirely. PR firms don’t let that happen.
Why is media coverage important?
Media coverage is important because if you do great things in your career, and no one hears about them, then it sort of defeats the entire purpose of what you are trying to achieve, right?
Media coverage enables the masses to hear about all of the great things you are doing in the world. It gives you an opportunity to control the narrative and share your story (and reach!). It also gives you an opportunity to reach larger and wider audiences beyond the people/ clients/ patients your business services daily.
Without media coverage, many brands never would have been built. Media coverage can snowball to other opportunities including speaking engagements, conference keynotes and social media brand endorsement deals.
MEDIA TRACKING IN PUBLIC RELATIONS
What is media tracking in public relations?
There are many ways to track media placements and PR placements, but first, let us explain what a media placement is!
What is a media placement?
A media placement is earned coverage through public relations tactics in a variety of digital and traditional channels including but not limited to digital media, print magazines, newspapers, radio, television, podcasts and more.
What is a PR placement?
Similar to a media placement, a PR placement or ‘hit’ is the definitional term public relations practitioners use to share secured media coverage with their clients. For example, when our agency secures press coverage for a client, we will email them a link to the coverage, which can include a quote from the client with a link back to their web site. We typically say, “attached please find a link to the press coverage secured on your behalf.”
A PR ‘placement’ means that the clients quote ran in a media outlet and the journalist used their quote and the story is now live. Publicists are responsible for placing these quotes and stories when they act as the liaison between the media and expert sources.
How are Media Placements shared?
There are several ways to share PR placements with clients: email, texting screenshots, press clipping reports or by sharing editor feedback they received with the client on why they were such a great source!
MEDIA RELATIONS ETIQUETTE
One of the biggest mistakes companies make with media relations is they do not follow basic etiquette rules when communicating with the media.
Follow these media relations etiquette rules when working with reporters
3 media relations etiquette rules to follow when publicists work with journalists to ensure success
- Thank the reporter for media exposure. It is incredible how many publicists skip this simple step. Too often, publicists look at an article from the perspective of how their client will see it and forget to look at it from a perspective of gratitude to the journalist who included their client in the first place. Journalists work hard on stories. If a journalist is giving your client editorial space or digital ink, say thank you for the coverage instead of complaining that the link wasn’t right or the quote was cut short.
- Act as a Media Gatekeeper. Media Relations Strategists must act as the gatekeeper between the client and the media at all times. The best public relations professionals value their relationships with the media first and foremost. They believe clients come and go, but the media stays. If you burn through those relationships with the media for a client who may or may not keep you retained, you ultimately will damage your reputation as a publicist. However, if you know and respect the rules and filter PR requests, journalists will want to keep working with you, and clients will learn over time that you know what you are doing. Hopefully, they will begin to understand why you say no to certain requests and will begin to trust your strategic media guidance on topics such as how to stay relevant to the media. If you are continually being pushed by a client to pitch stories you know are not newsworthy, it may be time to reevaluate the engagement.
- Market Your Media Coverage. Promoting your earned media exposure and press mentions on social media is critical to amplify the value of the press placements for your business. Do not forget to share the media coverage on social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and your blog. Journalists want to drive traffic to their articles. If they included your client in a story, return the favor by tweeting a link to the article and directing eyeballs to it. This small social media act of gratitude can go a long way in ensuring your client is used again as a source. Always extend the value of your media coverage through a strategic cross-channel digital marketing strategy. Being featured in the media is irrelevant if no one knows about it!
IMPROVING MEDIA RELATIONS BEST PRACTICES
Buzzstream conducted a study with over 500 journalists on their preferred PR pitching preferences. Here is what they found:
- 39% of reporters stated they would like to receive exclusive research in a pitch
- Only 15% said that want to receive “emotional stories”
- Only 5% of reporters said they want to be contact by phone
- 81% of reporters said they want to be contacted through email
- 69% of reporters preferred to be pitched in the morning and only 9% wanted to be pitched in the evening
- 88% of writers prefer to be pitched less than 200 words
- Reporters said they wanted subject lines that are direct, concise, descriptive and include keywords relevant to their beat
- 33% of reporters said they are very likely to delete a pitch if it has bad grammar
PITCHING JOURNALISTS: HOW TO GET YOUR PITCH NOTICED
How to Answer Questions From a Reporter
- Do not provide one-word answers. Provide the journalist with thorough interview answers. I won’t send a journalist interview answers from a client that are one line replies, and neither should you. I will go back to my client and ask them to re-do the answers because I know what a journalist is expecting and want to give them lengthier answers that they can pull good quotes from. Additionally, if the answers are missing the mark on the question the journalist asked, I will also ask them to re-do the answers before submitting. A good publicist knows what a journalist needs and can anticipate the needs of their editor as well. They may even have worked in journalism prior to becoming a publicist, which further helps them to understand what is truly newsworthy.
- Watch the clock. Do not say you will provide interview answers by a certain time and then provide them after the journalist’s deadline. If your client bails on the answers, let the reporter know ASAP and, if possible, provide the reporter with another source. Do not leave them hanging. Additionally, when you are replying to queries from reporters, time is of the essence. For every one press query posted, reporters receive hundreds of responses. You want to be one of the first to reply. If clients are asking you to submit queries hours later or after a journalists deadline has expired, don’t do it. It reeks of PR amateur hour.
How Do Journalists Conduct Interviews?
Reporters have different methods of conducting interviews. Some journalists want to speak by phone, while others want to send questions to sources by email. Publicists are responsible for figuring out the journalists preferred interview format and coordinating interview times, answers, and any additional information a reporter needs from a source. Often, the journalists preferred interview format may conflict with the clients preferred interview format. This is always a challenging and volatile situation to navigate through. It never gets easier.
How do you approach a journalist?
Media 101: How to follow up with editors
Freelancer Writer Lindsay Tiger recently shared 6 helpful tips for PR’s to know when working with the media in my PR group. This should be mandatory reading for all PR firm clients to read, seriously! She gave me permission to share the below 6 tips with readers.
What journalists want in PR pitches and what reporters really want from PR specialists (and their clients!)
Don’t ask when the story will be live. I don’t know when the story is publishing. You will probably find out before I do. I wish I knew!
I can’t promise coverage, ever, for any reason, no matter what. Even if I stay at a hotel for two nights. Even if you send me something. Even if it’s expensive. It’s not an exchange, it’s a review. It’s unethical for me to guarantee anything, and final edits are always out of my hands. I wish more people understood the difference between paid influencers and journalists.
Don’t ask for quick edits. I don’t have access to the CMS system, and I want to make a change as badly as you do, but I can’t make it happen. It’s up to my editor. I wish I could make a quick edit — my bylines would be better!
An expert can have one title — not 20. It’s cool they’re a career expert, a botanist, a yoga therapist, an author, a podcast speaker and a certified life coach… but I only have so much space in my word count.
If an editor makes me link to an affiliate, I have to. I can’t not, it’s part of my story assignment. I’ll always try to tell you if that’s the case. If they change the link to an affiliate, I probably can’t change it back. I wish I could.
I can’t change internal processes. I know your clients are pressuring you and you have deliverables and I totally understand. Your job is hard, just like mine.
STRATEGIC MEDIA RELATIONS
A successful media relations strategist knows how to walk the tightrope of the client’s needs and the medias needs on a daily basis. The goal is to mitigate the level of stress and try to strike a balance. You must be able to work in a high-stress environment daily to succeed in media relations. Even though clients hire you to get press coverage, they may get perturbed by the daily disruption of media requests. Remind them of why they hired you, and that this is all part of the process of getting earned media coverage. Yes, PR is a lot of work from the client side and from the agency side. PR isn’t for the faint of heart. There is a reason why Pubic Relations is continuously listed year after year as one of the most stressful jobs in America.
Ready to increase media exposure for your business? We can help with media training, media relations consulting, media relations strategy guidance and execution of ongoing media relations work with national media outlets on behalf of your company. Contact us today to discuss how we can help get you more interviews and get you booked, fast!
The importance of having an internal communication media relations process
It is critical to have a media relations strategy and a media relations communications process internally to handle media inquiries. If you hire a PR firm, you should make sure your staff knows to direct any and all incoming media requests to the PR firm. Make sure not to sabotage your own PR efforts. Training your staff on best practices of working with your PR firm is an absolute must. For example, if your PR firm is pitching you and a reporter calls up your practice manager but the manager takes a message and doesn’t relay the message to you until ten hours later, the reporter will most likely move on to another source. Train your staff on how to work with the PR firm and the proper protocol on handling time sensitive requests from the media.
Remember, being quoted in the media or mentioned in an article is not your right. It is a privilege and an opportunity to be featured in media outlets. It is called earned media for a reason. Earn it!
Media Relations Checklist
- Help them help you
- Respond to press queries in a timely manner
- Provide thought-leadership content to your PR firm
- Do not give one-word answers
- Let your PR firm know newsworthy topics you can comment on
- Dedicate at least 1 hour per day to working with your PR firm
- Do not flake out on media commitments
- Do not reschedule interviews with the media
- Do not add PR firm contacts on your personal social media (unless you want to royally irritate the PR firm)
Media Pitching 101 Checklist (BONUS!)
Before pitching the media, also make sure you have the proper media assets and collateral ready to go. Here is a Media Pitching 101 checklist we created for you. Use this before your first pitch goes out!
PR Agency Pricing Structure
Media Relations/PR Costs
“If I was down to my last dollar, I would spend it on public relations.” -Bill Gates
How much should I pay for PR or media relations and how much do publicists cost?
People often ask, “How much do you get paid in PR?” Media relations agencies work on a fixed retainer model. Prices can start at $5k monthly to $25k monthly up to even $60k monthly depending on scope of services and desired press coverage goals. For example, are you interested in local coverage, trade coverage or national press coverage? That will determine the cost of media relations. Additionally, the cost of the service will depend on if you are hiring a freelancer or a large agency.
Public Relations Pricing
Can I afford a PR campaign? How much does Public Relations cost?
People often ask, “Can I really afford a PR campaign?” It is important to understand there are two costs involved in a PR campaign: the cost of the PR firm, and the cost of your time. Most people allocate a budget for the firm, but they do not properly allocate the time to work with the firm they hired. Look at what your billable time is worth by the hour, multiply that by at least one hour a day for every day of the month, and factor that number into your cost.
Do you have to pay for PR?
Yes, unfortunately, you have to pay for PR! Like many things in life, PR is not free.
There is an article that ran in Forbes called, “Why you should almost never pay for PR.” Many articles like this have zero validity to them and are highly questionable. PR is NOT a waste of money as the article asserts. Why? Let’s dissect the claims..
“But for those of us outside the Fortune 100, a simple bit of effort from your marketing lead, founders and other executives is really all that’s required.”
This seriously makes me laugh. If that was all that was required in PR, we wouldn’t be in business! You should see my inbox.. to place one quote from an expert could require 30 emails back and forth! It is massive time suck with most executives DON’T have the time to do. That is one of the main reasons having a publicist handle the manual labor for you in addition to the strategic PR is so critical!
The author also asserts, “Note that most paid-for PR firms have a so-called “media blast list.” As part of your $10k/month service all they simply do is put together a boilerplate press release and “blast” it to their 1000-strong contact list of “schedulers” at various media outlets.”
Again, laughable. We do not have a media blast list! Who would ever blast the media in a blanket blast? Gross.
That is not in line with best practices, and also, sending out press releases is so 1990 unless you are putting out a major announcement like a company acquisition through a traditional news wire service. Anyone who is blasting 1000 contacts at media outlets will be blacklisted for spam from every journalist.
“Knowing this, why pay for what you can and should be doing on your own?”
Again, faulty logic here. I certainly can do my taxes on my own if I invested enough time in learning how to do them, but does that mean I should? NO.
As a business owner, you can do many things on your own. That isn’t the question. The question is where should your precious hours be spent, and what percentage of every other tactical activity should be outsourced to external service providers.
Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. It is better to be a specialist than a generalist.
“But overall, my recommendation is: keep control of your PR by keeping most/all of it in-house.”
What a terrible recommendation. Unless you have hired in- house employees who specialize in public relations, this is a disaster waiting to happen. Just because your new employee knows how to write a press release, does not mean they are qualified to handle crisis communications for your company!
“After all, no one knows and can tell your own story better than you and the people who live it every day.”
Sure, no one can tell your story better than you can. This is why we interview all clients to extract their story and craft the story in the best possible light. Of course no one knows YOUR story better than YOU.
However, just because you know your own story (not that big of an achievement- I would hope so!) doesn’t mean you know how to tell it, or who to tell it to, or how to craft it, or what channels to distribute it through.
Even though know ones knows your story better than you do does not mean mean you are the best one to tell it to reporters.
That is the equivalent of saying – no one knows your story better than you do, so why would you need a lawyer? You may as well make your own case in front of a judge in a court of law because you know your story best, right? No, wrong!
Pay for placement PR firms and Guaranteed PR
Should PR firms guarantee media coverage?
Pay for performance PR or PR retainers? Which is better?
Retainers are the industry standard when you are working with a PR firm. Pay for performance PR options are still very looked down upon by traditional PR practitioners. In fact, a Tech Crunch declared a war on a pay for placement PR firm for offering a la carte pricing for press placements.
The PR industry is really in trouble right now. You have so many people who are selling editorial coverage and offering guaranteed placements. This is not real journalism. This is not PR.
I urge you to watch the video How to Spot a Fake PR Firm. It contains a solid ten minutes of truth about the PR industry right now.
There is no possible way any Publicist can guarantee press coverage. There are a million factors and variables on any given day such as:
- Will there be breaking news?
- Will the story get bumped?
- Will the story get cut because an editor went in a different direction?
- Did someone else give better interview answers than the ones your source provided?
These are only some of the factors that go into getting a story placed. As more people tout guaranteed PR placement coverage, the industry becomes diluted as well as the value of PR in general. It also dilutes value in the client’s eyes because they are only attributing value to actual placements secured, and not the labor that goes into pitching and getting a story placed and all the other work involved from a tactical perspective. Additionally, press placements and media relations are only one component of a solid integrated PR campaign.
So, even if someone can guarantee you pay for placement PR, they aren’t offering you any real strategic insight, which is a critical component of a media relations campaign.
Should you hire a media relations specialist?
If you cannot spend at least one hour per day working with a media relations agency or PR firm, you should not hire a PR firm. Here is a list of 10 reasons why you shouldn’t hire a PR firm in addition to not having the time to work with an agency. Retaining a publicist is a massive amount of work. You must be willing to put in the time to give the firm what they need on a consistent basis so they can do the job you retained them to do. Please think about this before you hire a PR firm. We see way too many people hiring PR firms and then ghosting the firms when they need to give them the necessary material to do the job they hired them to do.
If you are going to hire a media relations specialist, you may want to consider hiring someone who has former experience as a journalist or producer. Many former producers and journalists have made the leap to PR because there are more job opportunities in the PR industry today. Their newsroom experience can prove invaluable for your media relations campaign efforts.
MEDIA RELATIONS TIPS
- Publicists and media relations strategists provide access to expert sources.
- Journalists write the articles that the public relies on.
- Publicists and journalists must work together and respect each other’s skillsets in the process of story creation or disaster can follow.
- Always have a media relations strategy before reaching out to the media.
- Do your research and know the publication you are pitching.
- Be relevant and make your pitch newsworthy.
- Understand the beat you are pitching. If it doesn’t fit their beat, then don’t send.
- Don’t send giant attachments that can blow up a journalists inbox.
- Don’t pitch through social media.
- Check your grammar and don’t use all caps.
- Be personal and don’t misspell a reporters name.
- Email instead of call.
- If a reporter is interested they will let you know. Do not incessantly follow up.
- Pitch solutions to problems.
- If you have unique interview opportunities, make that the lead.
- Include high-quality graphics or infographics to share data.
As a result of reading this media relations guide, you have hopefully developed a better understanding of the time requirement it takes for PR, and have gained new ideas on how to write press worthy content that will actually get picked up by the media and has a chance of turning into national media coverage success! Good media relations practices can be achieved by understanding how the media works.
Most companies who retain a PR firm receive no formal training on how to actually work with the firm or how to write content that will get picked up. We hope this guide will better serve you in getting the maximum ROI out of your Public Relations firm. If you have tried all of our tips and still aren’t seeing PR results, contact us to boost your media relations campaign.
Still have questions about PR? Curious to know why you need a publicist?
Watch our new video “What Does a Public Relations Agency do?” to learn:
1) What is the role of a publicist for my company? What does a PR firm actually do?
2) What are the essential functions of a Public Relations agency?
3) What is earned PR and how is earned awareness built in public relations?
4) How are media placements in top-tier publications achieved?
5) How do publicists get paid? What do fee structures look like by service in public relations?
MEDIA RELATIONS RESOURCES
The Ultimate Guide to Prepping for Media Interviews
Insider’s Secrets to Crafting The Perfect Pitch
10 Ways You’re Sabotaging Your Chance of Media Coverage
PR Don’ts: 11 Ways to Annoy A Journalist
How To Stay Relevant To The Media
How To Maximize National Media Exposure
Pitch Perfect: How To Pitch The Media
MEDIA RELATIONS AGENCY SERVICES
There are still things a great media hit can do that nothing else can! One feature interview in the national media could result in thousands of earned media impressions for your business. Ruby Media Group is primarily a media relations driven agency. Other components of public relations are important, but we believe media relations should be at the top of any strategic public relations campaign, first and foremost. If you have tried PR, but can’t garner results from the media on your own, it may be time to call a media relations specialist. Our media relations firm has secured hundreds of impressions for clients over the past 12 years in national media outlets.
Contact us today to discuss a media relations plan for your business. There are many PR firms who focus more on community engagement, and do not deliver when it comes to media relations results (despite promising to!). We are not one of them. Our numerous PR case studies can show you a sneak peek at the massive earned media wins for clients.
Census: 6 PR pros for every journalist
Adweek The PR Industry has a big problem
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Public Relations Specialists
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