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The Importance of Relationships

April 28, 2014
The other day I received an e-mail from a metro Atlanta city official who has read and likes this column..
 
In the e-mail, this official explained he was asking staff to author a series of positive articles about the city. He wanted to know how to get them to an editor or reporter for his local paper and the Atlanta Journal Constitution to ensure they’d help fortify his city’s brand.
 
This got me thinking: I’ve talked a lot about how to write articles, but not how to get them placed. This is probably because there’s no one way to answer this question. It’s complicated, because if you want good placement you need to build relationships – and there’s no easy way I know of to build a good relationship. Every one is different and requires a different standard of care.
 
But I think I can give you some guidelines and let you figure out a method that works for you.
 
First, a disclaimer: These concepts take time. You’re going to have to put in some real legwork to build yourself a network you can trust. But that network will be your greatest asset throughout your relationship with the media.
 
Step One: Research

Your first step is to do some checking around to see who is active in your community. For a local paper, this should be fairly easy. Visit the Web site and see who is writing articles about your government or community. For a larger paper, like the AJC, it might be a bit more difficult. The coverage for a major metro daily can be zoned, or it can be by topic.
 
When in doubt, call the newsroom and introduce yourself. Simply explain you’re trying to find out who reports on your community so you know who to come to with information.
 
Step Two: Meet

Once you know your reporter, set out to know them in a non-competitive or non-threatening environment. Lay all your groundwork in the good times – do not try and get to know someone when they are actively after a story. This will throw anything both of you say into suspicion.
 
Try coffee or lunch at good local place – show off your community. Show the reporter you’re about bettering the community as a whole, not just your administration.
 
Step Three: Talk to them about something other than work
 
This is important. Any reporter is going to know you’re taking them for coffee or lunch because you want to get a feel for him or her. It’s implicit. But you don’t have to jump right in, either. Try some small talk. You might find out something interesting, and it’ll make you seem much more human, as well.
 
When you do talk shop – ask a lot of questions. Listen. Find out what this person needs from you and what will make them successful. Then find the place where your goals and their goals meet.
 
Wow, more than 500 words already. I’ll pick this up next month and continue with my series on ensuring good placement.
JASON WRIGHT
Jason Wright is Communications Manager for the Georgia Tech Research Library. Up until November 2015, he was the Director of Innovation and Engagement for the City of Milton where he oversaw all aspects of the city's branding and communications efforts, including transparency, automation, design, photography, printing, web services and social media and public outreach.

Prior to Milton, Wright spent seven years working in the magazine and newspaper business. Most recently he was editor of both the Milton Herald and Alpharetta–Roswell Revue and News, where he wrote, edited, photographed for and oversaw design of the weekly papers. Prior to that, he worked as a writer, editor, designer and photographer for local, regional and national publication.