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Become a master storyteller

Series 1 - Episode 5

Media relations, at its core, is about storytelling. In this episode you will learn how to build a media relations strategy, how to build your network, work with and respond to the media, to drive positive coverage for your brand.

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When you talk about marketing and PR, media relations is one of the first things I think about. But not everybody knows exactly what it is or why you should do it or how you should start if you’ve never done it before. So, we will be talking about that today and to give you some top tips.

Beki, do you think you could give us a top line on what exactly media relations is? When we talk about media relations, what are we referring to?

Sure. Media relations has changed quite a bit over the last couple of years, particularly with the rise of influencers and social media and online platforms.

But when we’re talking about media relations, we’re talking about journalists, everything from national newspapers that you might read on a daily basis, all the way through to specialist consumer magazines. And like I said, we also incorporate social media influencers and bloggers into that as well.

We reach out to media to announce milestones, award wins, appointments, all the way through to things like product and service launches, as well as developments and upgrades with products and services.

When we talk about trade media, we’re talking about B2B, and that’s where it might get a little bit more technical, and on the consumer side, it’s more about storytelling.

We should always remember that media relations is about storytelling. The media are serving their audience and that’s the person we’re trying to talk to. And actually, where you should really start with your media relations is thinking about the audience and who do we want to talk to, what we want to tell them and why?

There is a question that sounds really mean, which is, who cares? And if you can ask yourself that about the story that you think you want to tell, if you’ve got a genuine answer, it fulfils a purpose.

Your story needs to have an objective and it needs to have a purpose. You know, why are you doing it? What actions you want people to take, or what do you want people to feel when they read that about you?

It should be something that, that has a purpose so that you can target it and give them all the right information and give them what they need.

And there is a big difference between earned media, which absolutely is what media relations is all about, and paid for media e.g., how many fantastic paid placements you put somewhere in adverts. If you have a bad piece of media coverage, editorial media coverage, that can do far more damage.

People are going to trust more in that third party. So it’s really important that you get it right. But it is very easily, easily achievable and you can do it, which is what we’re here to talk about today.

How do you start engaging with journalists?

So it could be a new fitness product launch that we want to talk about. Who do we really want to be talking to? If it is the end consumer, we might want to target consumer lifestyle titles. So take one audience segment, and think about what kind of publications they might be reading, what blogs they might follow, who they might follow on social media and really starting at the beginning. And do your own research, taking your time to do proper research as well. It’s absolutely not a five-minute job.

When you start reading around the subject, you can see the articles that actually are of interest or, written by people that are going to be interested in what we’re talking about.

Get a few copies of a magazine. Go online. See what their website is, like, see what different features and columns they have, because you may be able to pitch very specifically for, for a particular feature.

But imagine you have just read a fitness product and new trend, and you’re like, brilliant, that’s exactly what we’re doing. So, you get in touch with them and say, you wrote about this fitness trend – can you also talk about ours now? It’s essentially asking them to write exactly the same feature that they’ve already written, and that we know that drives journalists bonkers. Unless you’ve got something incredible and it really, really benefits them and the reader to revisit that subject, and you’ve got something new to add. Don’t fall into that trap of seeing them write about a particular subject and think that they’re going to write about it again so that they can feature your brand or service.

So it’s really, really important that you’re aware of what you’re asking from a journalists, but also doing your research. And some magazines are helpful. They do publish media packs online and forward features, so you can see what articles they’re going to be writing about or particular topics that are regularly of interest, or if they’re seasonally I’m going to focus on from month to month or quarter to quarter.

And some do and some don’t. But the ones that do, we have a lovely spreadsheet. Don’t we, we love a spreadsheet. We have a spreadsheet; we plot them all in there and we plot what those lead times are. And by lead times, we mean how far in advance they need the information for you to get your story within that publication. So there’s plenty of time for them to build up their stories, get the imagery build, build the publication, put it to print etc.

Some journalists love an email. Some prefer if you call them up, I don’t know, lunchtime to have a quick chat over a sandwich, for example, but it’s really about building those relationships with the media so that you can then pick up the phone and pitch a story to them, or talk to them about what you’re thinking about, what opportunities you might have or what you’ve got coming up and how it might fit into that publication.

Say you don’t have that relationship yet, how can you start that. It can be quite nerve wracking to do that first call. But the key there is to make sure when you first make that first call or drop that first email, is that you’re giving them something really good from the off, you know, you’ve done your research, you know, what sort of stuff they like to cover. You’ve got something really good for them to cover, and then you can start building up that relationship from there.

You want to make it as easy as possible for these journalists and influencers to bite your hand off and say yes and take what you’re offering them. The more complicated you make it or put hurdles in the way, or don’t know the answers to some of your questions, or haven’t really done the research and not really sure if they’re the right person, that’s when it starts to the relationship starts to slow down perhaps, or it really struggles to build. Journalists are really busy people.

We want to make their jobs as easy as possible for them. So we want to offer to write things for them. We want to offer them all the images and video content and assets that we’ve got, that we can give them. And we’re happy for them to use. Really high quality videos and images as well. We want to give them as much as possible, and as easily as possible, to make their lives as easy as possible, so they want to keep working with us.

In addition to visual elements, facts, available spokespeople, stats and case studies can all make an absolute world of difference.

Maybe we can talk a little bit about what the different ways are to get coverage, because it’s not just a press release. There’s lots of different ways to get media coverage. So maybe what are your thoughts on that and your experience in terms of the many ways you work with your clients to do that?

So for example, if we’ve got a new range of clothing for a particular sector, like sailing or ski, let’s say we might use a press release as a catalyst to kind of introduce the new collection. But what we actually want is for the journalist to call the product in or clothing in so that they can test out for themselves. So that they can test the products themselves and then write a really unbiased review from themselves, and it’s usually really in-depth.

We might also put spokespeople forward to the media, so we give them snippets or a bio of the expert or spokesperson for a brand, and talk about some topics that might be of interest or something that’s going on in the world right now and how we can really help with that.

We can also pitch for an expert, thought leadership article or a feature, where we write about a particular topic.

And how can you keep that coverage going when there isn’t a new product or service. So it is really difficult. And I think it’s fair to start with that by saying it is really hard and it’s not a five minute job and it does take experience. Being able to develop coverage or opportunities for your brand or your new clients when there is nothing new to say. Take a look at the last 12 months and see what’s changed and, use your own expertise. You’re an expert. If you’ve got your own brand, we’re hoping that you’re an expert in the sector or field. If you’re working for a client then you should know your client’s sectors quite well.

So you can look at the last 12 months and see what’s happened. Is there a reason that some of these things have happened? Um, how did your company respond to it? And as a result of what’s happened, has that changed what you’re planning for the next 12 to 12 to 24 months? Is it going to impact your product development, for example, has it acted as a catalyst to change within your organisation?

And these are really interesting topics, particularly on the B2B side, that you can offer to the journalists, really looking at industry insights, predictions, trends, anything in the industry that perhaps we didn’t all expect was going to happen, but now it’s happened.