100 media relations rules

Download 100 Media Relations Rules

Lessons learned & words of wisdom from PR pros and journalists       


  1. Always start your pitch with a clear & compelling answer to the question WSIC – why should I care?
  2. Anchor and build your pitch around a person with a compelling story that we can relate to
  3. Accept that the media have no obligation to promote or cover your latest fundraiser or gala
  4. Make it as easy as possible for the media to tell your story
  5. Reporters want two things – they want a great quote and they want to go home on time (don’t keep them waiting)
  6. Never lie to cover up bad news. Your lie becomes the bigger story while trust and respect take a hit with reporters
  7. When serving up a quote, be bold, be brief and then be quiet.
  8. Reporters aren’t out to get you. But they generally don’t suffer fools gladly.
  9. If a reporter gets it wrong odds are you didn’t get it right in being clear, concise and easily understood.
  10. If you pitch a story to the press, make sure you’re around to pick up the phone if they call.
  11. When pitching a story, a three-sentence email is always better than a three-page fax.
  12. Pitching a reporter who’s on deadline is not a good way to build a good working relationship.
  13. Know that good editors and news directors will always side with their reporters when they’re in the right.
  14. Never ask to approve a reporter’s story before it’s filed. That’s the editor’s job.
  15. Showing up unannounced at a newsroom to pitch a story doesn’t work. And it sets off alarm bells.
  16. Never ask the reporter to send you a copy of the story once it’s run. Make the effort to get it yourself.
  17. Threatening to pull advertising if a story runs guarantees it will and your relations with the reporter are shot.
  18. After talking with a reporter for 30 minutes, never a good idea to say “but don’t quote me on that or use my name”.
  19. A giant fake cheque presentation is never news.
  20. Know that the reporter at your daily paper didn’t write the headline that went with your story.
  21. If you can’t comment, say why (HR matter, investigation underway).
  22. Don’t be a fair weather friend – be accessible whether the reporter’s working on a good news or bad news story.
  23. Read, watch and listen to the media you’re pitching stories to.
  24. Know that your snarky, ALL CAPS rant to a reporter will be forwarded to the entire newsroom (same for late night phone calls)
  25. Include the agenda and times with event invites so reporters don’t waste 60 minutes watching you eat a rubber chicken dinner.
  26. The ideal op-ed (opposite editorial) is 750 words with one big idea, three supporting facts and a close that has a call to action.
  27. Unless you have really big news to announce, don’t waste your time holding a news conference.
  28. The best interviews with reporters are like two-way conversations and not Q&A sessions or cross-examinations.
  29. When a crisis hits and media call, acknowledge the problem and highlight your solution to fix and avoid a repeat.
  30. First three questions to ask a reporter – when’s your deadline, what’s your story angle and who else are you talking to?
  31. Cutting ribbons with giant scissors is not news.
  32. When pitching a good news story, put a real client / patient / student front and centre to tell your story.
  33. Boardrooms are boring. So too are office cubicles. Get out to the frontlines for photos and video. Makes for a far better backdrop.
  34. Who in your organization has the most compelling story? That’s the poster child to build your pitch around.
  35. Charity golf tournaments are not news, even with big name celebrities teeing off.
  36. Before talking with a reporter, nail down a clear, concise and compelling key message.
  37. Reporters are not obligated to publicize your fundraiser, no matter how slow ticket sales may be.
  38. Never bait and switch. The story you pitch to the media is the story you talk with reporters about if they follow up.
  39. It’s never about you. Your pitch is about the people you serve and how you’re making their lives easier and our community better.
  40. Don’t pitch a story until you can pitch your big idea in one sentence (and not a run-on sentence).
  41. If you don’t like the media, do yourself and your organization a favour. Change jobs.
  42. Pitching a story to everyone in a newsroom all but guarantees that no one will run with it.
  43. Pitch the right story to the right reporter. The court reporter is not likely to do a story on your new community garden.
  44. Anticipate the tough questions reporters could ask. These questions shouldn’t be a mystery.
  45. Your job is to pitch what your story is about. The reporter’s job is to decide the best way to tell the story.
  46. Every good news story is a deposit in your organization’s trust and forgiveness account. You never want a negative balance.
  47. When a reporter asks a negative question, don’t repeat the question in your answer.
  48. Before demanding a correction, ask yourself if anyone else cares that you’re a director and not a manger as reported.
  49. Read Ryerson Review of Journalism cover to cover. Best magazine on media trends and personalities.
  50. Never corner and pitch stories to reporters who are off the clock and spending time with their families.
  51. Earn a reputation as a resident expert on a specific topic. Be accessible, knowledgeable and quotable.
  52. Package your pitch with one to two folks from your organization, a 3rd party expert plus some key facts and stats.
  53. Always fire off an email thanking reporters for their coverage and highlighting how their stories made a difference.
  54. Be as forthright with bad news as you are when news is good.
  55. You’re not a reporter’s friend. You’re a resource for the reporter. Don’t confuse the two.
  56. Tell the story about how your organization has a proven solution to a big challenge facing your organization.
  57. Meeting a reporter’s deadline is good. Beating a reporter’s deadline? Even better.
  58. 20-second answers work best for TV and radio. Any shorter or longer and you’ve served up an unworkable soundbite.
  59. Steer clear of anyone who asks you to pay for advertising that’s dressed up and disguised as news.
  60. It might work for your kids but badgering a reporter over and over again to run your story doesn’t work.
  61. Run away from any PR consultant who offers to blast your story idea to 1,000+ reporters. It’s called spam and no one reads it. Although you’ll pay for it.
  62. Beware the pregnant pause. Don’t ramble to fill the silence after your answer and the reporter’s next question. This is where many folks stray off message.
  63. Taking shots at reporters in speeches might get you cheap laughs but it will definitely make you seem thin-skinned.
  64. Use this pre-interview briefing template from Heather Whaling with Geben Communications.
  65. Don’t know the answer to a reporter’s question? Say so. Never guess. Get back to the reporter when you have the answer.
  66. For good or bad, how you respond to a crisis will become the story.
  67. Get in front of bad news as fast as you can. And focus on what your organization is doing to avoid a repeat performance.
  68. What if no one shows up? First question to ask if someone helpfully suggests “let’s hold a press conference!”.
  69. Make your story pitches hyperbole free. Strip out all adjectives and adverbs. And never use the word “gamechanging”.
  70. Read and then reread Damage Control by Eric Dezenhall and John Weber. Best book on crisis management.
  71. Avoid doing any interview cold. If a reporter calls out of the blue, buy yourself 30-60 minutes to prepare.
  72. Get right to the point with your pitch. Say the most with the least amount of words possible.
  73. Do not call reporters three minutes after emailing your story pitch to see if they got your email.
  74. For an event or announcement at 10 a.m., don’t send out your media invites at 9:45 a.m.
  75. Don’t speculate on the motives, intentions or thoughts of others. Have a reporter talk to that person themselves.
  76. When sending out a media release, include contact information for follow-up (you’d be surprised how often this doesn’t happen).
  77. Don’t email attachments with your pitches. Include links to web-posted information instead.
  78. If you have big news to announce, try an editorial board meeting instead of a news conference.
  79. Never promise a reporter what you can’t deliver (interview with a client / patient / senior exec / employee).
  80. Know when to shut up.
  81. 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. is the sweet spot for events and announcement when you’re hoping for media coverage.
  82. If your organization only gets bad news, don’t blame the media. Do a better job of pitching good news story ideas.
  83. Just because your cause is worthy doesn’t mean it’s automatically newsworthy.
  84. Make it easy for the reporter to pitch your story to their editor / producer.
  85. TV needs great visuals. Radio needs great sound.
  86. Skip the swag. Reporters don’t need trinkets and trash. They want compelling stories.
  87. Don’t call the newsroom and ask to talk with a reporter. Do your homework. Know who to talk with.
  88. When making your pitch, reference related stories the reporter has filed.
  89. Quality trumps quantity. Be known for pitching good story ideas. Reporters will look for what you send. Less likely to automatically hit delete.
  90. Be a gracious host when a reporter pays a visit. If you charge for parking, comp it.
  91. Is it new, the first ever or unusual? Lots of people affected? Compelling human interest story? That’s news.
  92. Best litmus test for clear messaging – will your mom understand what you’re saying? And will she care?
  93. Assume everything is on the record. Don’t talk for 20 minutes and then say but don’t quote me on that.
  94. A website refresh or launch of a Twitter feed and Facebook page for your organization is not news.
  95. A picky point but it’s called a media release and not a press release. Radio and TV don’t use printing presses.
  96. Have check against delivery copies of speeches and remarks on hand for reporters (a bonus if you can email the speeches in advance).
  97. Don’t put exclamation marks in your email tips and pitches to reporters! Doesn’t make it more newsworthy!
  98. Don’t take it personally when a reporter postpones or cancels your interview to cover breaking news.
  99. Refusing to talk with a reporter won’t kill a story. Good reporters always find someone else to interview.
  100. When you come across a great story that's not about your organization, pass the tip along to a reporter.

Published by

Jay Robb

I've reviewed more than 500 business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and worked in public relations since 1993.

One thought on “100 media relations rules”

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