Media Mastery: The Startup Guide to Journalist Relations

Why do journalist relationships matter to startups? Well, let me set the scene for you.

It’s 10:30am on a Saturday morning. You wake up from an above-average night's sleep and check your phone to see what you’ve got planned for the evening.


‘Ergh’, you think to yourself; you knew you should’ve made plans earlier in the week.

But you’ve already got an unquenchable thirst going, and the pub is calling you from a distance, even if it is saying, ‘that’ll be £6.70 for a lukewarm beer please mate’.

So, being the well-adjusted individual that you are - you decide that drinking with some mates would be better than drinking alone. Good call.

You check your contacts and immediately have a decision to make. Who do I want to spend my Saturday evening with, and even more importantly, am I sure they’ll show up?

Decision time. Do you pick your mate who is always a good laugh and reliable or the geezer who blew you out twice in a week despite assuring you they were already on their way?

Journalists experience that proverbial scenario pretty much every time they go to write a story.

The same way you’ll almost always pick up the phone first to your fun and reliable mate is precisely the same mental process journalists go through when deciding who they’ll ask to comment on their stories.

That is why it’s vital not just to make acquaintances in the media but genuine connections with people who know they can rely on you.

I also don’t want to oversimplify the work of journalists because it’s also not a one-size-fits-all approach. Sometimes a journalist will need a comment from a specific person or company; other times, they might want to speak to a particular industry expert.

Or you might just be too good at your job, and the journalist needs to use a different commentator in case their editor notices that they’ve already featured your client six times in the past two weeks.

But in an industry as cut-throat and fast-paced as journalism, time often isn’t on anyone’s side, meaning decisions have to be made quickly. If you can make an effort to show a journalist that you’re the reliable friend and not the mate who bails when they’re supposedly in the cab, you’ve already put yourself ahead of 90% of the competition.

Which brings us back to the point on the value of journalist relations.

While writing this blog, a national tier-1 journalist emailed me to ask if I could help with their story. Getting this particular journalist to feature your client without a pre-existing relationship would be a serious longshot, but thanks to an expensed coffee a little while back, I’m now in an enviable position where they’ve come directly to me.

Sure, trekking to their office in the middle of a busy workday was a nuisance at the time, but it’s now paid itself back 100 times over. Advertising on that specific outlet would’ve cost the client a princely four or five-digit figure; now, they’ll be featured for free.

That’s the value you buy when you work with an agency that knows its stuff. Getting in touch with that journalist would’ve otherwise been hours of work researching and tailoring a pitch that might have never even been looked at. Working with specialists with deep connections in your target media can save you time and money while supercharging your public profile from day dot.

PR, done correctly, can bring immense value to businesses at any stage of their life cycle, be it as a startup, scaleup or even at IPO and beyond. To be realistic, I understand that not every business can afford a PR agency or even a freelancer - but good PR really should pay for itself. It should return your investment by unlocking doors you didn’t know existed and likely would have otherwise stayed shut.

Building relationships with journalists isn’t just about work, either. I’ve gone to countless meetings where neither party has breathed a word about our day jobs. Shock horror, journalists are real people that like to forge relationships that aren’t just focused on their profession. Everyone can contact a journalist and see if they want a coffee to hear about your story. It doesn't mean they’ll accept, but my point is that PR can be everyone.

Fundamentally, it comes down to value. People like to say that PR has always had an issue defining its value, but those days are behind us in the age of media monitoring tools and website traffic analytics.

PR is about securing third-party endorsements to build credibility - that’s the real value.

If you see an advert on the TV for a new pen that says ‘this is the best pen ever!’, you’ll sit there and think, ‘er, yeah, of course, they’ll say that, it’s an advert!’

But if your trusted mate tells you that you need to buy that specific pen because it’ll change your life, you suddenly have a different perspective. Well, asides from the fact your mate is mental for thinking a pen will change your life. Or will it? Maybe you’ll have to buy it to find out.

So, if you’re a business thinking about PR, I hope this has given you the gentle nudge you needed to take the plunge. Or maybe not, because you’re sitting there thinking, ‘of course you’d say that; you work in PR’.

Some people can’t win, can they?