In the realm of digital PR, backlinks have been heralded as the Holy Grail for as long as we can remember. We dedicate our time and expertise to secure these coveted links because we recognise their undeniable influence on SEO and online visibility.
Yet, as I’ve advanced in my digital PR journey, a question has begun to loom large: Is it solely about the links, or is it the individuals behind them that truly matter? This revelation was sparked by a recent post I shared on LinkedIn, where I delved into this very topic. The responses and inquiries that followed have prompted me to write a longer-form blog on this topic.
Throughout my six years as a digital PR, I’ve come to realise that in the ever-evolving landscape of digital PR, one thing always remains the same: cultivating relationships with journalists is the cornerstone of a successful digital PR strategy.
Why relationship building with journalists is imperative for SEO
Building and maintaining relationships with journalists has far-reaching effects.
Firstly, your network of journalist relationships streamlines your outreach efforts. Journalists are more likely to open your emails and consider your pitches when they recognise your name and trust your work. This not only saves time but also increases the effectiveness of your outreach.
After all, your digital PR campaigns become more successful when you can rely on your relationships to secure placements. For example, I’ve gotten our client in the New York Post four times in the last month alone as one specific journalist opens my email every single time. Building that relationship initially was like laying a solid foundation for your PR efforts.
Another reason to nurture journalistic relationships is because you can follow journalists’ careers as they move on; what inspired my initial LinkedIn post was the fact that two journalists (one at Real Homes, and one at the Metro) both emailed in the morning to tell me they were moving to other publications but wanted to stay in touch.
So there you have it; when you have strong relationships with journalists and publications, you are better positioned to secure high-quality backlinks from authoritative sources. Naturally, backlinks can significantly enhance your website’s SEO ranking, boosting its visibility and credibility.
7 tried-and-tested ways to craft genuine connections with journalists
But how exactly do you form these relationships in the first place? To help, I’ve compiled seven tried-and-true strategies that have allowed me to cultivate authentic connections with journalists across the world, all whilst I’m sitting at my desk in Geordie Land. Long gone are the days when you’d be expected to meet a journalist for coffee in London to bond.
1. Be genuine in your approach
Creating genuine relationships with journalists is all about connection and engagement. It’s not a one-way street where you only reach out when you want something. It’s about getting to know them on a personal level. That means going beyond the usual work talk and finding common ground. You can do this in various ways, and it doesn’t have to be complicated.
Social media platforms like Twitter can also help cultivate authentic connections. You can interact with journalists, share their articles, and join in on conversations about topics you’re both passionate about. But don’t limit yourself to just Twitter; use the platforms that work best for you and your connections.
Email is another avenue for building these connections, especially when a journalist has covered your campaign or responded to your initial contact. Use these opportunities to add a personal touch to your interactions. For example, if you recently got their out-of-office as they’ve been on holiday or have just gotten married, send them a thoughtful message or congratulatory note when sending your next pitch. Just find what works for you.
I’ll never forget the time when a journalist from the United States emailed me a few days after our conversation. She mentioned using the phrase “shy bairns get nowt” with her colleagues, a Geordie saying I’d shared with her. It’s moments like these that show the power of personal engagement.
2. Make sure your pitches are personalised
Personalisation is more than just a buzzword when it comes to digital PR; it’s a necessity. When you pitch your stories, take the time to customise your emails. Show that you’ve done your research and that your pitch aligns with the journalist’s interests and tone of voice. In the introduction, explain exactly why you think they’d be interested in your pitch. And if you’re not confident that they would be interested, you shouldn’t be emailing them…
Tools like Muck Rack can provide valuable insights, such as preferred contact times or desired word count, allowing you to present your story in a way that resonates most effectively.
However, over time once you’ve bonded more you can even ask journalists for general feedback and ask if they prefer their emails formatted in a particular way.
3. Build trust by showcasing your client’s credibility
When it comes to nurturing relationships with journalists, demonstrating your client’s credibility from the very beginning can be a game-changer. One effective way to do this is by including an expert comment in your pitch, a practice that’s highly recommended, especially in light of the emphasis on E-E-A-T (Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness).
In addition, you should include a concise but compelling bio that outlines your expert’s experience, credentials and notable achievements. To help with their credibility, you should also include a direct link to your expert’s author bio or a dedicated page showcasing their work and contributions.
In today’s digital age, the influence of AI technologies like Chat GPT, Bard, and others has grown significantly. This makes credibility a cornerstone of successful pitches. Journalists are bombarded with information daily, and they need assurance that your expert is the real deal. By providing evidence of your expert’s expertise and a convenient way for journalists to verify it, you leave a lasting impression.
4. Punctuality always pays off
If you were to ask a journalist what they value most in a digital PR, I’d bet that ‘punctuality’ and ‘responsiveness’ were right up there. Given that journalists operate under tight deadlines, it’s important to be a dependable and trusted contact should you be collaborating.
When a journalist reaches out with a query or request for information, respond straight away. Even if you don’t have all the answers at that moment, acknowledging their inquiry and providing an estimated time for a more comprehensive response can go a long way.
Similarly, ensure that your responses are clear and concise, and address the journalist’s specific needs. If you want to provide additional information that they didn’t request, keep it at the bottom of the email and highlight that it’s additional information you thought might be of interest to their article.
5. Honesty and helpfulness help you go far, too
Honesty goes a long way, too. If you can’t meet a journalist’s request, communicate this honestly. Explain the limitations or constraints you’re facing, whether it’s a matter of time, resources, or expertise. This upfront approach is respected in the industry.
However, never just turn them down without a backup, make an effort to suggest alternative sources or contacts who might be able to help the journalist. This not only demonstrates your commitment to their success but also showcases your network and industry knowledge. This exact scenario happened to me when a journalist emailed me directly for an expert, however, I didn’t have a client on my books that could help. I did, however, know of an expert who would be able to help as we’d collaborated with them in the past. I, therefore, passed on her details.
6. Express your appreciation if they cover your campaign
When a journalist covers your client’s work, taking a moment to send a sincere thank-you note or gesture goes a long way. This thank-you should be personalised, and specific about what you appreciated in their coverage, whether it was their insights, storytelling, or even the exposure that it provided.
You should also indicate your interest in future collaborations, and mention that your client/expert would be happy to help in any way they can. This is one of the ways you can get into their ‘little black book’.
7. Attend webinars
Attending webinars where journalists share their advice on effective pitching is a savvy strategy to enhance your PR skills AND build stronger relationships. Take notes, ask questions, and engage in discussions to gain insights directly from journalists.
After the webinar, reach out to the journalists who presented and thank them for their insights. This is an excellent opportunity to initiate or strengthen your connection.
Of course, the true essence of these tips lies in authenticity. When it comes to applying the knowledge you’ve gained from these webinars, it’s important to exercise discretion. Only send messages or pitches when you have something genuinely valuable to share or when the pitch aligns with the journalist’s interests and needs. Forcing connections or irrelevant pitches can be counterproductive, so it’s essential to be discerning in your approach.
Proven practices for strengthening your PR relationships
After you’ve initiated connections, the next step is to preserve and nurture them. This involves more than just an initial interaction; it’s about cultivating lasting relationships. This is what I’ve done.
Provide exclusive insights or early access to your campaign
Journalists highly value exclusive opportunities and unique content. By providing them with exclusive access to your clients or stories, you not only make them feel valued but also give them a sense of being “in the know.” This approach creates a win-win situation where you secure media coverage while deepening your relationship with journalists.
Or if you can’t give them an “exclusive”, you could give them early access to your client’s campaign before it’s widely distributed. Naturally, journalists love to be the first to break a story, and this can set you apart as a trusted source.
Open the conversation back up now and then
If you haven’t spoken in a while, reach out and see how they’re doing. Ask if they’re working on any projects that you can help with, and remind them who your clients are. Mention that you can provide additional information, expert commentary or interesting data. This demonstrates your genuine interest in their work.
Tailor your assistance to the specific requirements of each journalist. Some may need more background research, while others might be looking for unique story angles or exclusive interviews. Adapting your help to their distinct needs enhances your value as a resource.
Notify them of any new, relevant clients
Another essential aspect of nurturing journalist relationships is keeping them informed about any new, relevant clients you’ve onboarded. As soon as you bring on a new client that aligns with a journalist’s beat or interests, send them a brief, friendly update. Provide a concise overview of the client and why it might be relevant to their reporting.
If your new client offers expert commentary, unique insights, or innovative products that could be of interest to the journalist, make sure to emphasise these aspects. Journalists appreciate being introduced to potential sources for their stories.
Learning about and adapting to the ever-evolving changes in the digital PR world and media landscape will help you become a better digital PR. Firstly, make it a habit to follow industry news, blogs, and publications. Staying informed about the latest developments in PR and journalism is crucial.
Also, learn from your own experience. Reflect on your past campaigns. What campaigns did journalists respond the most to, and which ones flopped? Learning from your own experiences is invaluable.
Remember that maintaining these relationships takes effort, but the long-term rewards in terms of successful collaborations and industry trust are well worth it. By following these strategies, you can not only nurture lasting relationships but also strengthen your position as a trusted and valuable resource in the world of digital PR.