Winning with the Media
By Martin Cohn and Ann D. Getman, APR

Marty Cohn + Ann Getman
Ann Getman and Marty Cohn
Simply put, public relations helps organization X reach its target audience Y. The means to reach the target audience vary — advertising, brochures, direct mail, newsletters, special events, and media relations — to name a few.

Often, public relations is the ability to make something ordinary and turn it into something extraordinary.

Media relations is an area that gets a significant amount of attention. For many, it remains a mystery as to how a story gets into a publication.

Media relations is the art of building relationships of trust and mutual interest with reporters. It’s a step up from publicity for your product, service or event, or asking reporters and editors to do your marketing for you. Remember, reporters don’t work for you (or me) - they work for their editors, readers, and viewers.

Try an approach that builds better relationships with give and take, generating more call-backs, and ensuring that your calls are returned down the road. How? Position your organization as a resource to the press.

Resources offer instead of asking; they help reporters and producers develop story ideas, gather background information, analyze market trends, comment on breaking news, or suggest subjects (and people) for feature stories. They’re responsive, credible and respected.

If this is a major shift from marketing for you, here’s am eight-point checklist to position your company or client as media resource, not a marketing nuisance!

Return calls promptly. Respect reporters’ deadlines and they’ll keep calling for your expert wisdom.
  1. Don’t push your own agenda. Listen carefully to what the reporter is looking for and why — even if the story isn’t about you. Clarify the intent and objectives in talking with you.
  2. Clarify uncertainty. If you have any uneasiness about where the reporter is going with a line of questioning, respect it: ask about the thinking behind the question.
  3. Go off the record at any point if you’re uneasy or concerned about being misquoted. Say so plainly: “off the record and not for attribution”; ask the reporter to confirm. (Remember Watergate and Deep Throat?)
  4. Be forthcoming. If you don't have answers, say so and suggest other colleagues who may have them. This positions you as a fair and accessible source to come back to, even if someone else gets the mention this time.
  5. Thank the reporter. Acknowledge that the reporter has an interesting and challenging job and thank her/him for the opportunity to discuss your story. Ask whether or when the story will print or air so you can look for it.
  6. Follow up. When you see a piece about your story, always send a note or e-mail of thanks. Even if the reporter didn’t give you the most positive presentation, be gracious and let the reporter know you’d like to suggest stories from time to time and ask about what kinds of things s/he might be interested in.
  7. Log your lessons. Log all media calls to shorten your learning curve: track who you spoke with; questions asked and answers given; notes on the reporter’s style or approach; what worked well; and how the story played.
  8. Finally, keep your notes, you’ll need them to maintain a connection and a relationship with the report. Keep track of which papers and reporters covered your story, how receptive they were, and whether the story was a positive, neutral or negative piece.

Media relations doesn't have to be expensive but the potential return can be substantial. A story in the media offers a third party endorsement that you can't get anywhere else.

Martin Cohn is president of Cohn Public Relations, a Brattleboro, Vt., based full service public relations firm. Call him at 617-962-3136 or email to Ann Getman is principal of Getman Strategic Communications in Cambridge, specializing in public relations research, strategy, and program development. Learn more at