As an integral part of a robust public relations program, media relations is the art of working with editor contacts to land news coverage. This coverage should communicate an organization’s mission, thought leadership, innovations, and other key messages to the public.
But how does an editor relationship start? How do you maintain one? What makes a good pitch? Get answers to these questions and more below.
The four fundamentals of successful media relations
1. Do your homework
It may seem obvious that research needs to be done before all else, but what should you be aiming to uncover?
- First, ensure you have a solid understanding of your organization’s messaging, target audience(s), and public relations-specific goals.
- Then, it’s time to assemble a list of publications that align with each of those things.
- Once you have your publication list, find out what kind of timeline each pub operates on. You’ll need to know how often they publish, and how far in advance stories get placed. Keep in mind that many publications work months in advance, so working ahead and developing timely messages will increase your chances of landing coveted news coverage.
- Next, you’ll need to gather a list of each publication’s key journalists, then track each journalist’s point of view, focus, recent articles, and topics they’re passionate about. When you zero in on that information in your pitches, you’re likely to catch their attention.
- Finally, plot out your ideal media calendar. Imagine that all future pitching would go off without a hitch and fill in the gaps like pieces of a messaging puzzle. Does your “dream coverage” hit the right mix of audiences and topics?
2. Develop meaningful relationships
“Relations” and “relationship” share nine letters, for good reason. Fruitful editor partnerships are born of genuine relationships. But how do they start? Our PR pros take the time to understand the needs and challenges editors face, from budget and resource constraints to layoffs in their newsrooms.
As part of your introductions and pitching, show your knowledge of the editor’s perspective, adhere to their preferred communication style, be courteous with their time, and express genuine interest in their work and expertise. You want the editor to trust you to help them create impactful stories within their unique limitations. They should feel respected by your compassion, consideration, and understanding, too.
Pro tip: Patience and nurturing are the name of the game when it comes to fostering strong editor relationships. It’s not an overnight thing and requires ample time, so (again) work ahead and make sure your schedule allows room for the legwork.
3. Pitch like a pro
Your intro is complete, and a relationship is budding … now, it’s time for the fun part: the pitch. First and foremost, remember that editors receive hundreds of pitches a day, so you need to bring it in a way that stands out.
Wondering about the nuts and bolts of a perfect pitch? Let’s break it down:
- The news: the headline, or the key piece of information that’s worth sharing
- The impact: why their target audience will care; this is the place to add emotional appeal—the human dimension that gives the story heart
- The context: connect the dots between the headline and current events, trends, and the industry in which you’re pitching
- The proof: include data and sources you used to create your pitch along with a link to your news release and downloadable multimedia
- The next steps: give your contact an outline of the action to take if they’re interested, i.e., to respond via email or give you a call
Pro tip: Don’t use attachments. Keep everything the editor needs to know right in the pitch.
4. Look to the future
Pitching is just one (albeit incredibly important) component of effective media relations, but follow-ups are equally important. Don’t be afraid to share your thoughts with an editor if you come across a story in a publication that speaks to their interests, beat, and target audience. While it may not directly impact you, it can lead to new opportunities for future placements and strengthen that relationship long-term.
Bonus fundamental: More isn’t always better
Don’t measure yourself against the number of pitches you’ve sent in a week. And don’t assume you’re missing the mark if you don’t land everything you pitch. The true calling card of a successful media relations strategy is that you’re putting quality over quantity, landing worthwhile placements that resonate with your target audience. Those types of wins will always be worth ten irrelevant mentions that go unnoticed.
Media relations FAQ
How often should I seek out new contacts vs. working with tried-and-true ones?
Often. New and popular publications pop up frequently in the digital age. But never neglect your current contacts. You’ll likely need them again someday, and the world of editors is deceptively small—if you slight or offend an editor, it may get around to their peers and impact more than one relationship.
What are some signs that I have a good relationship with an editor?
You’ve got a positive partnership going if:
- Conversations flow naturally and genuinely; there’s a good rapport and you feel the love.
- Editors respond to your pitches confidently; because you’ve built trust, they know you always provide information with value and the potential to create a great story.
- You talk often, and not every email is self-serving; you share ideas or trends to help the other party do their job well and add value to the relationship.
- You don’t get left on read; they answer you within a reasonable amount of time and there are no double-texting issues.
How do I break the ice?
Sending that first email to a new editor out of the blue can feel awkward, like you’re sending a Facebook friend request to someone you’ve never met before. One way to start the relationship off is to use your personal or company social media account(s) to follow the editor and their publication. Engage regularly with their posts and leave succinct, thoughtful comments. They’ll know your name and take note of your expertise and interest, making that first email less uncomfortable for you—and more relevant when you make contact.
Media relations is a skill prized by the most experienced PR pros and marketers, and we hope this guide to the fundamentals helps you land the coveted coverage you’re after.
Does the idea of pitching make you itchy? Get in touch with our passionate PR pros who know the ins and outs of branded content, media relations and earned media, cause campaigns, events, influencer marketing efforts, and more.
This blog was originally published in July 2017 but was updated in September 2023 to reflect the current media relations landscape and best practices.