When I started out as a video game journalist and writer, I had zero press contacts in the field; now, I have over a dozen. I have worked hard to build good relationships with each of my press contacts, and have learned a few good things you can do to make a press contact go from simply press release emails to solid professional relationships.
Here are some tips on making your press relationships work:
Give their product exposure. The reason a press contact wants to work with you in a first place is to get more exposure for their product. This is the main reason behind the relationship; you give them exposure, and they return the favor. With a new press contact, you should:
- Review their product. Free sample or not, you should make an effort to review their product, and give the press contact a time frame in which they can expect that review to appear. I’ll touch on how to write a good review at a later date; for now, remember to review the product within the expected time frame and share the review with the press contact as soon as it is up.
- Cover news with their product. If the product is in your field of expertise, you should cover its news anyway. If you weren’t, do so now, especially when a press release or press kit is sent your way.
- Ask for exclusives. Once you’ve established that initial relationship, ask for a small exclusive interview. This shows the press contact you’re interested in continuing the relationship, and most will be quick to work out a plan with you.
Respond to your e-mails promptly. While it is not necessary to respond to press-release emails, which are blanket e-mailed to press contacts, any other e-mails you receive should be replied to as soon as possible within your schedule. If you take more than a day or two to reply to an e-mail, offer a quick apology for the delay. Show them that communication matters to you.
Take initiative. If something new is happening with the company or product, approach your press contact for more information and chances for exclusive opportunities like interviews. Don’t wait for them to make the offer.
Cover other products. This may not always be an opportunity for you; however, if a company offers to reach out to you on one product, give their other products exposure too. Review other products from the company at your own expense. You are being read, and the contact will take notice.
Offer more than your e-mail address. You may write for the web, and they may have found you via e-mail, but make sure your press contacts have your phone number and mailing address as well. You don’t have to be blunt about this and shove it in their face (No “here’s my mailing address and phone number if you need it”), but slip your phone number, at least, into the bottom of your e-mails as part of your signature. You are a professional, and should not be anonymous with these contacts.
Be yourself, but stay professional. Every press contact, and every company, is different. Remember that you don’t have to be a stiff piece of cardboard, and can speak on a semi-casual basis with your contacts so long as you keep it professional. I have a press contact that often shares dirty jokes with me on a personal basis, but even though we have become good friends, when I deal with her on a professional basis, I speak of her by name, and do not use any terms of friendly endearment. This tip really goes for all that you do as a writer, but especially holds true when building your social network – think of everyone you talk to as your co-worker, and treat them with respect and professionalism while staying human.
Introduce new writer contacts. This is something you must treat carefully, and so I’ve saved it for last. This is something that should generally wait in a press relationship, and should be done with discretion. There are times that a press contact will have more products than you have time to cover, or will have a product that is not in your expertise that they are looking for exposure on. At that time, it may be appropriate to introduce a fellow writer (if you know one) who could cover the product instead. A few words of advice for this:
- Ask the other writer before introduction. Let the writer know that you have a press contact from X company, who has an item in their expertise, and that you were wondering if you could make the introduction. Don’t throw a new writer in the fray without asking permission. Remember, they have to build that press contact with the same care you did.
- Make sure the other writer understands the importance of the contact. This isn’t “let me introduce you to my Aunt Sally.” The other writer should understand how important the press contact is, and be prepared to follow through with building it and covering the product. This should be a writer you trust to follow in your footsteps; the impression they make on the press contact will reflect on you.
- Introduce the writer to the press contact via a conference/CC. In that email, politely let the company know that you do not have the expertise to handle the product in question, but that you would like to introduce the new writer who could do so. Explain your professional connection with the writer, and build them up a little, especially with any professional achievements they have. You’re selling a new contact to the press.
- Follow up with the writer (not the company.) After a sufficient amount of time – one month is usually good, but it depends on the product in question – send a quick email to follow up with the new writer to ensure that the connection was established and is off to a good start. Once they’re introduced, things are in their hands, but it is good to make sure that they are following through and that if any bridges need to be mended, you try to help.
To reiterate in short form:
- Be prompt.
- Be professional.
- Be reliable.