basic relationships

Public Relations 101: Building and Maintaining Relationships

As public relations professionals, one question we get a lot is, “what is public relations?” If you’ve watched any TV show or movie, your idea of PR is probably based off Samantha Jones from Sex and The City or Olivia Pope from Scandal. While occasionally our job can be that dramatic, say in a pandemic trying to help clients keep up with constantly changing guidelines, in general, public relations is all about building and maintaining relationships.

When a company or individual is interested in brand awareness or managing an upcoming event or launch, they’ll generally consider three options for spreading the news: paid, owned and earned. Paid media focuses on leveraging press placements you need to pay for, like advertising or sponsored content, owned media refers to any content that is shared on a clients’ own channels, like their website or social media profiles, and earned media relies on press opportunities that are shared by a third party without payment like news articles, broadcast media coverage and social media mentions. While many public relations agencies, including Nuffer, Smith, Tucker, offer services for all three, the backbone of PR is earned media. The key to earned media placements? Relationships.

Building relationships isn’t quite as simple as it may sound. When it comes to news, everything moves at lightning speed, meaning so do journalists and, of course, PR pros. When journalists have a timely idea or news angle, they want the information now or, you’re left with “reps for (insert your business name) were unavailable to comment at the time this story was published,” or, you could be left out of the story completely. Neither are successful in establishing or increasing brand awareness.

As PR professionals we bridge the gap between our clients and the media, so information flows smoothly from the client to the journalist without falling through the cracks. We also ensure that the client has a clear and cohesive message that is communicated efficiently to accomplish their goals.

So, how does one build and maintain relationships with the media? Without giving away some NST trade secrets, we’ve compiled a few ways that we manage strategic relationships that drive client results.

Check-in Without an Ask.

No one likes to hear from someone only when they want something — the same is true for journalists and community agencies you may be looking to partner with. It’s important to continuously check-in, see what beats they’re covering and what stories they have both in the works and on the horizon. Reaching out to journalists before you need something helps build rapport, meaning when they’re being spammed with pitches, they’ll feel more inclined to open rather than hit ‘delete.’ We also encourage following them on social media, sending a handwritten thank you note, meeting up for coffee or sending a small token of appreciation for holidays.

Be a Trendspotter.

While creative new story ideas can get media interest, reporters are generally looking to cover stories that align with timely topics. COVID-19, unemployment, small businesses, BIPOC stories and ‘feel good’ stories are all topics that we’ve seen in all forms of media over the past year. While you don’t want to force a client story to fit a trending topic, there may be a way to tie in a client story with a timely angle — strategic positioning at its finest.


Journalists are busy, often covering more than one beat at a time. Personalization is an extra step when it comes to pitching and while it may not be possible to add a personal note, comment on a previous story they’ve covered or add an authentic touch every single time you hit ‘send’ on a pitch, it could be the difference between a client win and a quick swipe into the trash folder. In Muckrack’s 2021 The State of Journalism study, 21% of reporters said they reject pitches for lack of personalization. That same study found that almost 47% of journalists get up to 50 pitches a week. Make the effort and you’ll be more likely to get the win.

Know Your Audience.

This tip applies to both the audience you’re trying to reach and the reporters themselves. If you’re pitching a fashion blogger a story about citrus pest prevention, you’re barking up the wrong tree. Not only will they not publish your story, but they’ll also be less likely to consider you as a resource or work with you when you pitch them something applicable. Don’t pitch just to pitch – be strategic in your pitching efforts. Pitching to five journalists that are actively covering the angle you’re looking to get media attention for is much more fruitful than sending out a mass pitch to 300 journalists from your probably outdated generic media list.

Under Promise, Over Deliver.

You may have great ideas that a reporter loves, but keep in mind that it may not be feasible for the client or your agency to make it happen, especially in the short timeframe many newsrooms may give you. On top of ensuring that you’re on the same page with your client, under promise what you can provide and then ‘wow’ them when you over-deliver. Never offer-up a resource that you can’t deliver.

Don’t Be Annoying.

It’s that simple. But, to clarify, don’t hound a reporter. If they’ve ghosted you or passed on your story idea: Let. It. Go. According to Cision’s 2021 Global State of the Media, almost 52% of journalists despise repeated follow-ups. Muckrack’s report found that 90% say one email follow-up 2-3 days after the initial pitch is acceptable. Remember the Golden Rule – treat others like you would like to be treated – and be respectful of their time and resources.

While building relationships may seem like a simple task, a public relations agency is an asset every business should have in their corner to ensure the development of long-term media relationships receive the attention required for great results.

If you’re interested in learning how Nuffer, Smith, Tucker can help you increase awareness for your brand or event through strategic media relationships, contact us today.