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Media Relations: A Primer

Media Relations: A Primer


It is my observation that media relations is one of the most misunderstood disciplines in a professional communicator’s took kit. It is often described as synonymous with the broader discipline of public relations or reduced to the more narrow field of publicity.


I define media relations as the art of building and sustaining relationships with professionals who determine and produce editorial content. My definition may sound simple — take a reporter to lunch — right? Wrong!


The effective practice of media relations requires strategic direction, planning and a lot of discipline and tenacity to be successful. It is far more than distributing news releases and calling editors or reporters to ask if they received the release.


It requires:

  • Policies about the process of working with editorial representatives.
  • Research into understanding your organization’s key audiences and how those audiences match the audiences of the myriad editorial outlets available today.
  • Research and development of a specific database of editorial outlets based on audience matches.
  • Research and understanding into how to reach specific editors and reporters by learning about individual preferences, deadlines and editorial focuses.
  • Developing, continually analyzing and crafting the right messages for the right audience at the right time.
  • Discipline to nurture the relationships.
  • Knowing the right communication tool, news release, phone call, email, etc. to use to carry your message.

All rolled together, this is the plan.  While conducting a session on media relations planning some years ago, I had a media relations manager at a large health system dispute the concept that one could plan media relations. She was entirely in a reactive mode, never seeing that her organization had the opportunity to be an excellent source of information about health care in her community. Needless to say, they got no positive editorial coverage.  An effective media relations plan not only helps build a brand, it can help you survive a crisis.


Why?  If you have a solid, respectful relationship with key editors and reporters, you are more likely to be treated respectfully when your organization has bad news to deliver. Editors and reporters are human and they respond differently to those they know well and trust compared to those with whom they have no relationship.

My favorite resources

My favorite resources: There are many resources to help the professional who wants or needs to become more expert in media relations. I have my favorites. They are:


On Deadline, Carole M. Howard and Wilma K. Mathews, ABC, IABC Fellow, published by Waveland Press, Inc. This is a great primer on media relations with lots of tips and specific direction.


Effective Media Relations

, Wilma K. Mathews, ABC, IABC Fellow, published by IABC. This is handbook that is step-by-step guide to media relations and is excellent for the profession with no experience.


Inside Organization Communication, edited by Al Wann, ABC, APR, IABC Fellow, published by IABC. This book is a compilation of expertise in all disciplines in organizational communication and offers an overview of media relations. It is a good resource for the professional who would like to get a refresher or overview of media relations as well as many other disciplines in the communication mix.

By Mary Ann (Jackson) McCauley, ABC, IABC Fellow

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