Journalist Byte: Five Suggestions for PR 2.0 Relationship Building

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My 12th Bytes from the PR Sphere column is the first to address social connections between public relations practitioners and journalists.

Media relations remain an important component to effective public relations, particularly related to reputation and issues management. In the PR practitioner’s (necessary) skill set is the ability to engender trust and credibility.

Following are suggestions, based on personal experience, about initiating online connections with journalists, plus growing those relationships and reputation. I end with a successful case study of my own.

My Five Suggestions

1. Use your real name(s) consistently across all social media channels.

The majority of savvy public relations practitioners use their real names, but I’ve found Twitter more prone to “twee” handles. A personal account is one thing, but if your account indicates a company affiliation or states you are a PR or media relations specialist, it should reflect your name. Granted, if your name is John Smith or Susan Brown, it’s a bit more challenging to differentiate, but don’t resort to @AwesomeFlackGuy or @PRGirlWithBeret, particularly if you want to be taken seriously by media, potential employers or clients.

Years ago,  I attended the taping of a webcast with a panel of experts my organization  sponsored, for reporting, promotional and networking purposes. Happily, several members of major media outlets also were in attendance. I remember proactively introducing myself to a senior financial reporter for the Globe and Mail (who had earlier published my name with the infamous “no comment” line, which wasn’t actually true, simply not the information or commenter desired….).

I still recall her friendly response, “Oh yes, I remember you. You have a unique and unforgettable surname.”

I’m confident that if this journalist sees my surname on Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ or in a blog post, etc., she continues to remember who I am.

It doesn’t matter where; your name is an integral part of your profession/personal brand and reputation.


i) Regarding relationships with journalists or bloggers, if you have in your Bio that you work in any area of communication, there is no valid reason or advantage to having a “private” account.

ii) If you’re the PR lead behind company account(s) make that evident in the Bio. Include your full name or provide a link to your personal account.

2. Invite journalists you know to connect with you; provide a reason why.

i) The majority of journalists I send a LinkedIn invitation accept it. Be sure to personalize the invitation, indicating your past relationship or how you know his or her work—for example, some reporting you admired and why.

Despite some considering LinkedIn a “Boring” platform, I’ve found many journalists find it reputable. I managed to convince my journalist colleague and friend Ira Basen to join LinkedIn a few years ago; to this day it’s the only social media platform he participates in.

And check out relevant media outlets with LinkedIn Groups. I’m a member of the Globe and Mail’s Small Business Group and the CBC Radio one.

ii) I’ve had decent success in being Circled back on Google+ by journalists, probably because it’s not designed to be an aggressive connection platform. Some journalists, especially in specialty areas like film, have even initiated the Circling.

iii) With Twitter, I evaluate success more with having engagement reciprocated, than in being followed back. Be realistic about follow backs on Twitter—journalists may prefer to keep their stream relatively uncluttered or information/specialty specific. So, if you spend a lot of time tweeting about your personal interests or engage in a lot of Twitter chats, etc., don’t take personal offence if a journalist is not interested in your constant updates.

If journalists do follow you back on Twitter, do not overtly pitch them via the DM function or send links to news releases. Depending upon your existing relationship and the nature of the information you want to share, the journalist might be open to a short and non-aggressive heads up or a query if she or he would like to hear more.

3. Monitor the movements of journalists into other disciplines—often into PR or content marketing/brand journalism—on social media platforms and connect with them.

If you’ve had a great relationship with a journalist in the past, why should it end because his or her employer is no longer a media outlet?

I know a respected former editor of a city newspaper that’s now the communication lead for a world-renowned children’s hospital foundation. We’re connected over a variety of channels. More recently, LinkedIn suggested a possible connection. I’d known her as the powerful, scary smart and a bit formidable, albeit not unkind, Ontario Bureau chief for the The Canadian Press. Now she’s the executive director of communications for Ontario’s top elected official, Premier Dalton McGuinty! I sent her a LinkedIn invitation, congratulating her on the new position and reminding her of our past relationship. To this day I channel her Canadian Press words about the relevance of “news” releases and promotions:

“Why should I care about this information? Why should our readers care?”

Just because an individual has left a media outlet to pursue a different career doesn’t mean that he or she left on bad terms or is out of the loop. Chances are they remain brand champions. For my examples, I’d feel comfortable asking for information about the correct contacts to reach out to at their former employers.

4. Recognize that, despite the name, not all online platforms are equal in influence to traditional counterparts.

I read (publicist-provided) provocateur Ryan Holiday’s book, Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator. Many marketers have been upset by this book, believing it is a manifestation of Holiday’s own spin and need for self-importance. What they are missing is this 25-year-old appears to have not only “used” the online media, but to have researched and developed an understanding of the dynamics of the online media world. In particular, he lays bare the suspect quality and/or motivation when it comes to the calibre of the journalism (i.e., the lack of fact checking and objectivity) and the relationships—objectives and payment—regarding platforms and writers.

I know this information was “news” to me:

“…is now the standard model for blogs. was relaunched with hundreds of blogger contributors who are paid per visitor. Seeking Alpha, a network of financial writers (arguably worth a lot to its investor-type readers), launched a payment platform in 2010 that pays writers based on the traffic their posts generate. The average payment per article turned out to be only fifty-eight dollars for the first six months.” p. 43

Beyond Forbes and Seeking Alpha, Holiday provides the names of other established and reputable organizations—not all mainstream media (e.g., the Harvard Business Review blog)—where the online version isn’t of the same critical thinking, research, fact-checking, journalistic objectivity or writing calibre as its print manifestation.

It’s probably easier to establish a relationship with the writers on these sites—you might even know them already through social media—and get some online coverage, but just be aware that the readership and/or actual influence of this third-party validation might also differ on the negative side.

Adjust your online relationship building and pitching according to how you value coverage on these sites.

5. Be generous with your media connections; pay-it-forward to other PR colleagues.

Sometimes your company or you are not the right person to be contacted, or you think of someone else who might be better positioned for subject-specific commentary.

You engender goodwill when you provide a journalist with an alternative contact or point to information to help out, even if you’re not the end beneficiary of the article.

Mat Wilcox (whom back in 2010 I’d invited to take our PRoust Questionnaire) kindly recommended me to the Globe and Mail’s advertising and marketing reporter, Susan Krashinsky, as a good person to talk about Belvedere Vodka’s Facebook ad imbroglio. Susan made initial contact through the Crowdsourcing form on our PR Conversations blog; this pay-it-forward connection resulted in me being quoted in When social media goes anti-social.

Since time, I’ve sent Susan links to relevant articles, including Domino Pizza’s exemplary handling of its online crisis. I noticed a later column by Susan Krashinsky had quotes from Domino Pizza’s vice president of communications, Tim McIntyre; I like to think that my Crisis Byte influenced her decision to contact him.

Those are five routes (or pieces of information I’ve gleaned) for developing online relationships with journalists—what about you, do you have anything else to add?

Case study:

How four relationships with journalists helped spread my blog interview with Ira Basen

I knew Ira Basen’s CanWest Fellow appointment and chosen research topic, “The Future of Journalism in the Digital Age,” would make for an interview of great interest to both journalists and public relations practitioners.

I published The intersection of public relations and journalism in the digital age on PR Conversations and did my own promotional tweets, first from our blog account and then from my own.

I then sent a simple “FYI” type message and link DM tweet to four journalists, Susan Delacourt of the Toronto Star, Belinda Alzner, who is the in-house journalist for the Canadian Journalism Foundation, Nora Young, host of CBC Radio’s wonderful Spark show and Brian Pittman, content director and partner,

Why them?

I knew from past conversations (public and private) that the Toronto Star’s Susan Delacourt respects and admires Ira Basen tremendously and would be interested in what he had to say. With my Canadian Journalism Foundation (CJF) contact, Belinda Alzner, Ira is a contributing editor to (the editorially independent) J-Source publication and my research showed that J-Source had covered past Fellowship nominations. Nora Young knows Ira Basen through CBC Radio, and also is a fan of his work. I knew that Brian Pittman as an editor/journalist that covers corporate communications, would really appreciate the topic of the interview, which is why I also gave him a special heads up.

Without my asking, all of them tweeted about the interview.

Where else?

Besides Twitter, I posted the interview on my personal and PR Conversations Google+ accounts. I also featured the interview on my LinkedIn update, as well as a few LinkedIn Groups, such as the Canadian Public Relations Society, the before-mentioned CBC Radio Group, Maximize Social Business, etc.

I’ve found that pushing my LinkedIn updates to Twitter seems to get as much attention as tweeting directly. Maybe that’s because I’m judicious about my “syndicated” updates.

I did email a couple of other people, but really didn’t do much aggressive or personal promotion. Instead, people such as the “Highly Influential” Susan Delacourt did that for me, including adding #hashtags:

Really thought-provoking stuff from the formidable Ira Basen of #CBC, on PR & #journalism: Thanks, @jgombita! #cdnpoli

See this Topsy link that tracked all of the tweets. I watched in delight as the interview spread across Canada and elsewhere, with tweets from professors in both disciplines, public relations practitioners, journalists, mom bloggers, PR-industry vendors and more, including several in French. It’s been one of the most-read posts on PR Conversations in the past few months.

More outcomes

A nice side benefit of Susan Delacourt’s endorsement is that my Member of Parliament—i.e., the elected representative at the federal level—Dr. Carolyn Bennett, now follows me on Twitter. (She describes Ira Basen as a journalist with incredible integrity.)

In terms of coverage, Belinda Alzner did her own J-Source article about the Fellowship for Ira Basen, as well as an interview précis and link to the full Q&A: On the intersection of journalism and public relations.

Besides his own “highly recommended” tweet, Brian Pittman selected it as a Top Blog in an issue of CommPRObiz.

But most gratifying had to be Susan Delacourt, senior political writer for Canada’s largest paid-circulation newspaper, being inspired enough by the interview to write her own Saturday column, focusing on the topic of churnalism and political journalism. She extracted some of Ira Basen’s answers and also named me and my group blog. See Political reporting suffering from effects of ‘churnalism’.

I have experienced other great outcomes, including:

  • Ira Basen and I guest lecturing, via Skype, to an NYU master’s in international public relations class on the topic; and
  • A request from the professor publisher/managing editor to contribute an article on this topic (or any other about social PR) for an upcoming (university) journal of communication

And although I’m not a fan of lists, I can’t help but think it was the interview with Ira Basen that got me on to Robert Kim’s new Top 100 Public Relations Firms and Publicists of 2012 Who Know Press and Social Media Too, simply because I didn’t know Robert prior to him alerting me about its existence. (He says it is based on three independent sources and everyone has to be on all three lists, but hasn’t told me the actual sources.)

In conclusion

All of the individuals I contacted about the interview were journalists with whom I’ve developed an online/offline relationship of respect and trust.

One of the things I like most about social media is that it allows the tables to be turned—the public relations practitioners can call upon, highlight and reference journalists whom they see as stellar professionals. It’s a win-win symbiotic relationship of trust and credibility that has nothing to do with those horrid stereotypes of public relations being about spin or practitioners mainly being paid liars.

Judy Gombita
This monthly Social Media and Public Relations column is contributed by Judy Gombita. Judy is a Toronto-based public relations and communication management specialist, with more than 20 years of employment and executive-level volunteer board experience, primarily in the financial and lifelong learning nonprofit sectors. She is the co-editor and Canadian contributor (since 2007) to the international, collaborative blog, PR Conversations. +Judy Gombita
Judy Gombita


Sr/hybrid (social) public relations & communication management strategist. Mindful curation @PRConversations. Heart: travel, film, theatre, opera, books & food.
By @BlakeMichelleM for @forbes: When Brands Try Too Hard On Social Media h/t @augieray - 7 hours ago
Judy Gombita
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  1. says

    Great stuff, as always Judy, thanks for the tips, in particular love the “be generous” and “pay it forward” comments.  The approach clearly works, as your example shows; I personally need to get better at tip #3, excellent advice as more and more people are building out their personal brands and contributing to multiple publications, or writing under their own names; regardless of short term benefits you need to get to know the person, as you say, and lead with an attitude of helping others

    • says

      Thanks, Bob. It’s always an especial thrill for me when YOU learn something new from my columns, given that you are an awfully savvy PR pro in your own right.

      Giving to and sharing with others in this occupation has always been a part of my MO and for the most part it has served me well. I must say that the online world has me re-examing, a little bit, where to spend my energy, as there is an awful lot of mutual back scratching (amongst marketers/PR people) about reciprocal links and promotions (regardless of the calibre of the posts), but I don’t think this really happens when it comes to relationships with journalists. At least not the journalists with integrity and credibility.

      I think I was doing #3 instincitvely, but when I set out to write a post that went beyond “How to pitch journalists online with a fabulous press release(!)” I did stop and think about how Ira Basen’s current areas of interest in journalism’s reshaping itself in the 21st Century reality, has been demonstrated quite significantly in my LinkedIn stream, as I see many former journalists I interacted with pursuing different careers. Unfortunately, I suspect for many the motivation is financial security. It’s rare do I know of a journalist who left the discipline because he or she disliked the actual job.

  2. Mary says

    Making with other is so influential in business, it amazes me how simply reaching out to others and developing even the most basic relationship can later make a huge difference in your business.

  3. says

    I’ve got a ‘twee’ Twitter handle, but that’s about it.. everything else is me. I too disliked the idea of ‘media manipulation’ and horrid spin stereotypes and agree w/ you – thought that it paints these non-fact checking, link-baiting ‘news’ outlets in a harsh light. And we see it everyday; think half the ‘blog posts’ I read on HBR are nothing more than glorified ads for business books by the authors.. published by Harvard Press of course. Not all media are created equal. 

    As for the rest, WIIFM. Be helpful, upfront and direct; let a reporter know what’s in it for them to connect, stay in connect, to open that pitch email. If ever I get a request and don’t have a source, I try to find one – or redirect to those who do. One thing of note about your case study: time. It took time for you to learn about these journalists, what would interest them, build connections. It’s work that can’t happen overnight. FWIW.

    • says

      One of the really interesting parts of Ryan Holiday’s book is how he demonstrates a story pitched to a small, rather inconsequential blog, making its way up the news food chain to reputable mainstream media outlets. The idea is that each time the “manipulated” pitch is picked up, it grows its credibility. (Richard Edelman did a nice job describing this aspect in his own post about Trust Me, I’m Lying.)

      Per your comment, for me that was the most useful AH-HA moment, realizing that a lot of organizations had online properties, likely because they felt they need to be there….increase the coverage and profile, without significantly increasing costs. But you’re right about the HBR blog being overtaken by new-books authors and their writings. Yes, most are intelligent and decent writers, but the fact remains that they mainly want to sell their books, rather than what is truly in the best (or most useful) interest of the regular readers.

      Forbes was probably a bigger shock. Do you remember the frisson of excitement (mainly from the “winners”) last year when the one writer started producing the Forbes’ “Best of” social media people lists? (And the crushing disappointment of some who felt they deserved to be on more than others.)

      Why did we automatically assume that because the list was coming from a Forbes site that it had the same weight as Forbes’ “Most Powerful Women in the World” list of last week?!

      I agree with everything you’ve added about building relationships with journalists. I also tend to have a lot of fun with them–at least unless it’s a crisis situation, etc. That is, IF the journalists are interested in sharing jokes or funny annecdotes. If they want to be all business, that’s also cool.

      Regarding your “twee” account name… 😉 Part of my problem with non-name Twitter accounts is that half of the time I can’t remember what the account is! Ergo, I end up searching: “Davina Brewer, Twitter” to find it. Not really in your case, though. Since the one #solopr chat where I knocked off one of your hats (@2commshat), I do always remember that you are The One And The Only @3hatscomm!

  4. says

    Judy anyone who knows you will soon realize your generous spirit and willingness to share only reinforces your unique character you are far more memorable that just your name. Thanks for sharing some great advice – always appreciate case studies.

    • says

      Thanks, as always, Joe. YOU are actually a great role model regarding generosity.

      When I shared the personal experience with the journalist remembering me because of my surname, that was actually a turning point for me. It was when I stopped looking at my Slavic/ethnic surname as a liability (often spelled wrong, almost always mispronounced, at least in North America) and instead looked to it  as a differentiator.

      It’s even better in social media! I sometimes feel sorry for relatives in Canada, plus all of those non-family people in parts of the States who share this surname, as I pretty much dominate the social space when it comes to search. :-)

  5. says

    Judy, your attention to detail and resources in all of your writing continues to astound and delight. I would like to have ‘you’ as an app on my smart phone and I would be willing to pay! You actuate your words with generosity and paying forward.

    • says

      I cannot even begin to express how much this line delights me, Anneliz:

      “I would like to have ‘you’ as an app on my smart phone and I would be willing to pay!”

      (And I don’t even HAVE a smart phone at the moment….)

      Thank you so much for your kind words and compliments. Sometimes I muse that I take far too long in the researching, thinking and writing phases of my various columns, but when I hear back from someone that she appreciates the attention to detail and resources, it makes every hour time well spent.

      Social media is still in its early days, but I like to think that the vast majority of effective relationship building techniques can be transplanted from telephone and email to social platforms, including with journalists.

      As a side note, consider following @SusanDelacourt on Twitter. I gave a guest lecture to one of Ira Basen’s Ryerson University journalism classes, including a list of whom I thought did it best on Twitter (both journalists and public relations practitioners). Susan was at the top of the list. She. Is. Awesome. in many, many ways.  

      Enjoy your long weekend! We celebrate it in Canada as well, except for our Labour has a “u.” :-)

      All the best,

  6. says

    Thank you, Mary. Those basic courtesies are definitely so important, not only in the present but for future relationships. Despite the online world being so vast and unpredictable, maybe we should think of relationships the same way we would if we lived and worked in a small village, and were greeting and talking to the same people, day after day.

  7. says

    For anyone interested in hearing Ira Basen, he has a new documentary airing this Sunday, September 10th on CBC Radio One’s Sunday Edition. This is the information I included on my G+ account:

    It is called *The Big Disruption: Universities in the Digital Age* and It looks at how higher education is finally being disrupted by digital technology, just as music, journalism, publishing etc. already have been. Specifically, it looks at massive open online courses (MOOC).

    Some top universities (Harvard, MIT, Stanford, etc.) have started to offer free university courses online that attract tens and hundreds of thousands of students per course.  In the doc Ira Basen talk about his experience taking two MOOCs this summer.

    It is running in the second hour (i.e., following the news at 10 a.m., across the Canadian time zones). If you are not Canadian, remember that you can live-stream the show. Plus, hopefully, it will be made into an audio file/podcast, for listening at your leisure.

    (BTW, his next radio documentary for CBC Radio will likely be about brand journalism/content marketing, per his CanWest Fellowship research.)

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