How to Build Media Relationships That Stick – Treat Them Like a First Date (Case Study)

When I received a call last month from Andrea Gardner, reporter for Marketplace, I was thrilled. Marketplace reaches 8 million listeners, and I’m one of them. Couldn’t be a better venue as far as I’m concerned.

I knew this was a rare opportunity, and I wanted to make the most of it. And I realized that in doing so, I’d carve a path for nonprofit organizations to follow.

All the nonprofits I know – client orgs and others – are perennially hungry for media attention. After all, media coverage is “free” and the net it casts tends to be.

But we all know nothing is for free. Although media coverage doesn’t take dollars, it does take effort. Very much like a first date when you’re willing to do practically anything to make a good impression.

But your focus on here goes beyond charming and disarming. Your strategy should begin from the moment you identify a journalist as a media priority (she covers your issue or geo area, and is read, listened to, or watched by your key target audiences) or receive an incoming query (lucky you, these are real gifts). But what are the key steps to building and strengthening your relationship, leading to a second date and beyond?

Simply follow these four rules of first dates to ensure your flirtation flickers and flares into a close, long-term relationship with the media who can extend your organization’s reach and impact.

Catch your intended’s eye and make a good impression

If they don’t come to you, go to them. Once in a long while, a journalist will knock on your door. But don’t sit around twiddling your thumbs and waiting.

Instead, research those who cover like orgs and issues, digest their perspective, study their audiences, and pinpoint ten or fewer folks who are the best fit. Make sure you let them know – in the way they like to be contacted – when your org’s expert is the right commentator for a story, or your program team has a relevant slant on a current news story.

Whether they call you or you call them, make it easy for them (in this case, it’s the opposite of playing hard to get). Be a good listener so you pick up on how they’re looking for you to contribute to a story. Speak when and how its right for them, first researching the issue and venue in question so you can put your best foot forward.

Caution though – Don’t come on too strong with a pitch. Remember, it’s all about them, not about your organization. Your value is in making it easier for them to do a good job.

Just be yourself and show them how much you have to offer; calmly and with quiet confidence.

Prep thoroughly for that critical first date so it’s not the one and only

Once you’ve introduced yourself and get that longed-for call requesting a comment or interview, it’s time to get ready for your first date. And I don’t mean clothes and make up.

Schedule the conversation at the journalist’s convenience (make it easy should become your mantra). Make sure you dig deep for exactly what she’s most interested in (her slant) and how you can contribute. Then do your homework. The ball’s in your court.

I asked Andrea Gardner what she was interested in re: Goodwill’s DC fashionista enterprise, and how I could help. After we scheduled an interview appointment in the studio, I researched Goodwill’s initiative – read the blog, looked at the players behind it, learned more about the core mission of Goodwill than I ever knew before and worked through what I saw as the benefits and challenges of the fashionista campaign.

Once I finished my research and thinking through, I summarized my take in an outline, and then edited that to key message points. After all, Andrea had advised me that the segment would run no more than three minutes, so I knew that my contribution would be very brief. I wanted to be interested but respectful of her interests and needs; and didn’t want to appear over-eager.

I crafted a few pithy statements to throw into the interview as “quotable” outakes, then I ran through my lines, out loud, a few times.

As I tell clients on a daily basis, you can launch only once.

Shape the big date to be a boom, not bust

When it’s time to talk (or email), make sure you’re ready. Here’s how I prepared for my studio interview with Andrea:

  • Wore comfortable but professional clothes, so I looked and felt good
  • Arrived early, just in case
  • Brought my water, Kleenex and throat lozenges (I was just finishing up with a cold)
  • Had my summary notes, and print outs of the blog, Goodwill DC’s Web page and a few other backgrounders – just in case the conversation went in another direction (my back-up plan)
  • Relaxed – Just as you don’t want to convey your nervousness (via sweaty palms or a shaky voice) to your heartthrob, you want to sound cool and confident, even if your voice won’t be played back to 8 million listeners. Do what works for you. For me, it’s deep breathing and a little stretching.

When Andrea rang the bell (ok, called; she’s in LA, I was in the NYC studio), I took a deep breath and plunged in.

Harkening back to my dating days, I made sure to be a good listener, taking Andrea’s lead as she guided our conversation through the topic at hand. BTW, Andrea was a great date, making me feel relaxed, knowledgeable and that I had something very valuable to add.

Don’t forget to smile and enjoy the date. I had a wonderful time speaking with Andrea. My enjoyment went well beyond having a good story to tell about this experience, and serving as a commentator on the radio.

Andrea’s query was an intellectual and creative challenge. I enjoyed the process of thinking through Goodwill DC’s case study, and sharing my take on it. Since I was having such a good time, I sounded relaxed and confident. Listeners say they almost heard me smiling. And I was.

Here’s the interview for your listening pleasure.

Follow up for a second date

The first date is like a toe in the water. When you want to step on in, you have to take a deeper plunge.

I thanked Andrea at the end of our interview, and offered my time and expertise should she have further questions as she crafted her segment. I told her how much I enjoyed the experience, and looked forward to next time.

Andrea had promised to email me the segment’s air date. When I heard from her, I reiterated my enjoyment of our work together and volunteered my services as a commentator on nonprofit and marketing stories, or as a source of referrals to those with expertise in other arenas. She thanked me, and promised to take me up on it.

I plan to keep up my marketplace listening (and track Andrea’s stories online, and send her my take when I have something to say. In addition, I’m likely to throw her a story idea every once in a while. Not too much to overwhelm her; just enough so she remembers my value as a source of insight or referrals.

I want to make it easy for her to use me as a source. I want a second date.