Media Veteran to Budding Sources: Be an Expert, Be Accessible and Be Responsive
As PR practitioners, it's our responsibility to build and maintain relationships with members of the media. They're our bread and butter, and without these relationships it's far more challenging to seed the media landscape with our clients' stories.
However, after we've introduced our clients to the media, it benefits these clients to also build and maintain those relationships as well. After all, the media look to PR reps as sherpas who pitch the initial story idea and make the introduction to the sources, but then look to those sources as experts they can tap for thought leadership and opinions when the need arises.
Brian Gormley, a 16-year journalism veteran, currently covering venture-backed healthcare tech companies for Dow Jones' owned and operated VentureWire, offered his thoughts on how company executives can ingratiate themselves among reporters to become that go-to source when the reporter needs expert commentary, rather than just looking to a reporter for the 30-minute briefing and glowing company profile to follow.
"Start with a specific event and discuss that," Gormley explains. "Then offer to comment on individual events, even if those events are not tied to the company's products or what they do. Being an expert overall on the industry they're in goes a long way to developing yourself as a credible source."
And it's not always establishing yourself among veteran reporters to a specific industry. Gormley recommends helping those new to an industry or beat.
"Offer to brief a reporter on a sector if that reporter is new to it," he said. "Helping bring them up to speed, introducing them to the market and the players, telling them what to look into and trends they should look at is helpful."
Gormley said no one knows the sector as well as the company CEO, but he also cautions the CEO shouldn't just be on the phone with a reporter when his PR agency has landed an interview - he or she should reach out on their own with some regularity.
"The frequency evolves over time as you better understand what they publish and what he or she writes about and you become comfortable with them," he says.
While the days of a reporter working on just one large story for the morning paper or evening newscast each day are long gone, the days of reporters sticking to their ethical guns and not accepting gifts and dinners remain. Gormley cautions sources that it's not okay to take a reporter to lunch or dinner, or pass along small tokens of appreciation and thanks for positive coverage. He says this can muddy a relationship and that most reporters, when push comes to shove, have a job to do. If that job entails reporting news that will paint a source in a negative light, they're going to do their job and report the news instead of looking the other way. So sources shouldn't hold onto false hope that a few well placed meals or lunches will pay larger dividends in the end.
At the end of the day it's a reporter's job to find and report stories, do it in a timely fashion with validation and above all else, report with accuracy. Gormley concedes there are times when reporters misunderstand what they may have heard, and in that case, need to correct that misrepresentation.
"It's okay to follow up with the reporter,'" he explains, while adding there's an opportunity to correct the mistake and advance the story. "You can say, 'you misunderstood this, or you missed this point, but you should look into this angle now.' Then you can point them in that direction."
Gormley's last point to those looking to become sources for the media covering their industry is to be responsive and available.
"If you want to be a trusted, go-to source, be accessible," he suggests. "It's important for reporters to know they can get in touch with you quickly. Reporters knowing they can contact you and that you'll get back to them quickly will help you build that relationship and be that source."