Cultivate media contacts

Contacts with reporters provide short cuts into news rooms. Reporters work a lot on trust. If they receive a news tip or release from a stranger, they must first check out the stranger’s credentials before deciding whether they have a story.

A member of an opposition political party tipping them off that Labour’s policies are inflationary is not news. A staff member of the Reserve bank saying the same thing is. This is an unlikely scenario but you get the idea: Contacts establish trust so reporters don’t feel the need to go digging to determine whether the person passing them information is reliable and can be depended upon not to push a barrow too obviously.

Contacts obviously work in areas other than news rooms but this story is concerned with the media so I’ll concentrate on them solely.

Contacts develop through exposure at the meetings, issue of releases and the like. Contacts should be nurtured and not abused. Don’t establish a relationship with a reporter and then blow it with a self-serving plant that can later be disproved. Reporters value contacts because the contacts give them the edge over other reporters and their reporting reputation benefits, the boss notices, they build a reputation and maybe win a Qantas Media Award and a return air ticket to Woolloomooloo. Reporters need contacts as much as contacts need reporters.

Establishing a rapport with a reporter is not underhand. Many were the press gallery reporters under the Muldoon government who played poker long into the small hours with his backbench MPs. By the time those backbench MPs advanced to cabinet posts they were almost old mates with the reporters. There was trust and understanding. This trust and understanding, of course, didn’t stop reporters gleefully (though metaphorically) knifing the MPs in print or on radio or television if the chance arose.

Contacts can recruit reporters by being useful, suggesting story lines that may have no immediate benefit to the contact but which benefit the reporter’s aims and which build trust. Eventually, you can become a specialist upon whom the reporter will call for advice and leads. Pretty soon after that, you might graduate into becoming a local expert. Yea verily will the drums sound and the quotes flow when that event comes to pass. It means you’ve appeared enough in print for other reporters to notice you and start to call. You have now become the universal property of not just your contact’s news room, but of news rooms generally.

Of course, you may also have a day job. Becoming the local expert is time-consuming and requires some determination to achieve, which is why the movers and shakers hire ‘communications consultants’ to build a profile on their behalf. It also happens more often to corporate types who have the indulgence of an employer to attend the best conferences and meetings.

However, if your market is restricted to one suburb or town and you develop a symbiotic relationship with a reporter on the local throwaway to the point where your profile lifts, where your customers comment about the reportage and you feel you’ve lifted your profile sufficiently, then congratulations, you’ve made it: you’ve become the local expert.

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