I've been working in PR for over two decades and, even to this day, nothing makes me happier than when I land a great piece of media coverage for a client. To me, this joyful moment happens when three elements come together in unison: a great pitch, a solid relationship with a reporter, and the right timing.
Once upon a time, great media relationships were built over lunches, press conferences, phone calls and in-person media tours. But times have changed and so has PR. Today, while phone calls still matter a great deal, in-person meetings are rare. The good news is that we now have Twitter and it’s a huge and, I think, untapped, asset for building relationships with reporters.
There are, in my opinion, four major ways PR professionals should be taking advantage of Twitter to help create media coverage opportunities:
1. Reporters are people too. They hang out on Twitter, tweeting about sports, music, where they are heading for the weekend, their kids/cats/neighbors/in-laws, movies and so on. So converse with them, just like you would anyone else on Twitter. All work and no play is dull. So get in there with some chitchat about common interests, opinions, the weather, the Red Sox, whatever. Have a dialog. Relate to each other. Make a connection. Be funny, engaging, useful and authentic, but not overly sycophantic.
2. Understand how your target reporters are using Twitter. For example, USA Today’s Jon Swartz (@jswartz) told me: “I use Twitter as a tip sheet/news wire service, and as a way to find sources I haven't met.”
Another reporter at a major tech blog says: “We are always following along on Twitter to keep track of what people are talking about, the latest news and trending hashtags. I follow a lot of reporters and major sites on Twitter, so I visit websites directly a lot less now and just get redirected to them when I click on the links. This saves a lot of time and I'm much more up to date with the news. Reporters also follow other beat reporters in areas we write about and other people in the industry. It's also very valuable to connect with PR people and companies too -- sometimes you get in touch with people much faster or instead of going through a main PR email, you can reach the person you want directly. The same goes for sources.”
3. Be generous with the Twitter love. Tweet out a reporter’s latest story being sure to @ mention his or her name. Retweet their articles, adding your perspective. Favorite their latest piece. Everyone loves to be recognized and, by doing so, you can improve your chances of breaking through the “white noise” of other people’s pitches.
4. Timing is everything. Think of Twitter as your very own personal investigator. Use it to find out whether a reporter is attending a major press conference or covering some breaking news, precisely when you have an expert on hand with a comment. Or maybe the reporter you were planning on hitting up with your big pitch is actually on vacation; if he or she is tweeting about/from the beach, you can find that out too and divert to another target.
It’s no coincidence that many of my best media relationships are with reporters with whom I have a Twitter “friendship.” In fact, when faced with a barrage of faceless pitches, odds are that the reporter with whom you just tweeted back and forth about Mad Men, snowpocalypse or their kid’s latest tantrum, is more likely to respond to yours.
So do yourself a favor and tweet with a reporter today.