by Randall P. Whatley
Media relations practitioners often make fools of themselves by either begging a reporter for free publicity or trying to cajole a reporter into covering a story. Instead of using these ploys with a reporter, build a relationship with each reporter you speak to by simply asking him/her "How may I help you?"
Use the reporter's answer as you cue on how to continue the conversation and what to say next to sway the conversation to a point where you can make a pitch for your story.
The following phrases are other excellent conversation starters to use with reporters.
Demonstrate respect for the reporter's time by asking this question when you begin
Asking this question accomplishes the following: It demonstrates your sensitivity to the reporter's on-going dilemma of meeting a story deadline. It also illustrates that you understand the news business. Additionally, it provides you with an indication of how much time you have to fill the reporter's request.
This considerate gesture helps both you and the reporter prepare for an interview and saves you both time.
Reporters need multiple sources for a story. They usually want as many as possible. This is a helpful way to save a reporter time and potentially create a better story.
By asking this question, you are again demonstrating empathy for the reporter's fact-finding challenge and ingratiating yourself with the offer to assist the reporter to do his/her job.
Settings and photos are often something that reporters think about last and near their deadline. This means that they often use whatever is handy or easiest to use although better options might be available. If you provide this early in the story composition process, you have a greater chance for increased exposure in the story.
The modern media has a constant need for all types of visual supports, especially those available electronically and free. If you can provide, maps, illustrations, photographs, charts, graphs, or video footage, you will not only ingratiate yourself to the press, but also increase your chances of being covered in a story.
If you have asked the questions previously listed in this article, you have probably proven your worth to the reporter as an outstanding source. Most reporters would like to have more background information on you or your clients for future reference.
By asking this question, you are helping the reporter and yourself. You're helping the reporter by providing information that is already written and available as documentation for his/her editor. You are helping yourself by greatly improving your chances for both accurate and expanded quotes.
If the reporter believes that he needs supporting documentation for his/her story, make sure that he/she views you as a willing source to provide this information.
Reporters like the idea that they can contact their sources anywhere/anytime. Make sure that your press contacts view you as one of accessible sources.
Randall P. Whatley is president of Cypress Media Group, an advertising, public relations, and training firm. Cypress Media Group provides training primarily related to business and technical writing, presentation skills, and media relations. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.