The security market is an evolving landscape where the threats often outpace the solutions, and new challenges arise every day. Because of this ever-changing atmosphere, there is always room for growth and improvement when it comes to the way we interface with media and our clients. That’s why last month, Merritt’s Security Practice Group convened for a boot camp on media relations best practices.
We sat down with seven reporters from top industry publications, including Dark Reading, Ars Technica, CyberScoop and The Wall Street Journal, to dive into the needs and preferences of modern journalists to hear straight from the source. These conversations shed some light into how the industry is changing and how we can incorporate new tactics to stay at the top of our game. Here are five key takeaways from our conversations:
First impressions always matter. Be mindful that the first email, phone call or even Twitter message you send a reporter’s way makes a positive impression with the person behind the pitch. Be thoughtful in your approach by ensuring you’re targeting every communication to that person and catering to their specific journalistic needs — they also have a job to do. Researching a reporter’s current beat, and taking care to make sure they haven’t already covered the subject you’re pitching are easy ways to show you have done your homework as a PR professional. This first impression goes a long way toward the kind of relationships you build throughout your career, so make sure to start off on the right foot.
Personal relationships are key. When a pitch goes unanswered, it’s easy to become frustrated and assume you’re being ignored for a bigger and better story, but that’s not usually the case. It’s important to remember that, like everyone else, journalists are just doing their jobs. If they don’t respond, it’s generally due to time constraints and heavy workloads; it’s nothing personal. However, taking the time to develop a solid relationship with a journalist – outside of just discussing your latest clients and their news – is critical. Knowing how reporters prefer to be pitched and what they are looking for in a story may make a major difference when it comes to landing a feature story on your client. Understanding that there are real people behind the email addresses also makes for a much more human experience.
Everyone’s preferences are different. While it might seem like we’re saving journalists time and effort by providing a quick, canned quote for them to stick into a pre-written story, that isn’t always the case. Originality is essential to good journalism, so find out how each reporter prefers to get their intel and what they prioritize in coverage, whether it’s being the first to cover a breaking story or taking a deeper dive into a day-two angle with more analysis. You can then determine if you should simply provide a few lines in an email as soon as possible, or offer clients who can get on the phone for 10 minutes to guarantee a fresh take. Knowing and respecting journalists' preferences makes for a more functional relationship and a better story.
Communicate what we learn with the client. It’s our job to help our clients understand the current media climate and how we all need to evolve. As the general first point of contact between the reporter and our clients, it’s our responsibility to relay exactly what’s happening in journalism and how we can all work more collaboratively to produce the best stories. Rapid response techniques, for instance, are evolving as more and more vendors enter the security market. Taking the time to educate clients on the most effective way to cut through the noise and get a reporter’s attention on breaking news will save everyone some time and frustration. If there’s a disconnect between what reporters need and what our clients are supplying, then nobody’s happy and we can’t do our jobs effectively.
Consider a shift in mindset. In such a rapidly changing industry, you have to be willing to adapt. What worked in the past won’t necessarily work now and will likely change in the future. The reporters we spoke with suggested we reconsider what constitutes a top-tier publication and what medium our clients’ target audiences are choosing to get their news from. For example, as the landscape moves toward visuals and sound bites, we need to embrace that shift and figure out how to get our clients involved. Taking a step back from the 24/7 news cycle and refocusing will help us keep our clients at the forefront of change.
The more time we take to learn, the better! Media relationships are a two-way street. Both parties are trying to accomplish a goal, and both sides want to feel like their time isn’t being wasted. With the division of clients into practice groups at Merritt, we’re afforded the opportunity to become fully entrenched in one industry. Taking the time to become more knowledgeable of the news and specific industry trends ultimately helps us to have more educated conversations with reporters, allowing us to evaluate and present the best opportunities to our clients. The more effort we put into building authentic relationships, the more success we’re going to have as PR professionals.
Interested in becoming part of a dynamic team that never stops learning? Visit our careers page to check out our current job openings.