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Finding Media Relations Success in the Digital Age

Finding Media Relations Success in the Digital Age

The PRSA International Conference was held in our own back yard last month and a few of the Bohlsen crew took advantage of the great presentations to hone our skills.

The session I attended, Media Relations in the Digital Age, was led by Michael Smart, principal of MichaelSMARTPR. He talked about how a simple shift in thinking can help us find more success when pitching the media.

It’s about more than just using all the correct skills or crafting a bomb pitch, it’s resetting your mind to believe again that you actually have something of value journalists will want to share with their audiences.

Here are Michael’s three tips for creating that mindset and the most important takeaways I got from each one.


You need to regularly immerse yourself in the target media outlets you’re trying to land. If you want to get one of your clients in Forbes, keep an eye on the new stories they publish every day so it becomes second nature.

For me, that means keeping abreast on each priority outlet my clients want to (somewhat realistically) be in. I work with several nonprofits and a few in the education sector, so I make sure to receive the daily newsletter from Chronicle of Higher Education with all their top stories and have Google alerts set up for whenever journalists write about certain topics pertaining to my clients.

Spend 80 percent of your time on 20 percent of the most important media contacts. If there were more than 24 hours in a day, you might be able to reach everyone, but realistically, there’s just not enough time to spend on every potential media target. Figure out your hit list and build those relationships. 

During this age of digital media, we need to expand our definition of media to include anyone trusted by your audience. For example, we work a lot with Downtown Indy and Visit Indy to share our client events via their social networks. They aren’t necessarily traditional media outlets, but they can reach our targets sometimes more easily than traditional media can.


Having breaking news to share with the media is one thing, but a lot of us PR pros know that you don’t always have something exciting or timely to share. In this case, creativity always trumps budget, so dig for your own gold when you perceivably only have a pile of rocks.

In a past conversation I had with a journalist here in Indy, she said, “Give me a story you’d want to tell your neighbor about while making small talk getting the paper in the morning.”

Connect what you have to pitch to regular people. Journalists don’t always care to talk to the CEO of a major organization about a new product, but they might care to talk to John Doe from Small Town, Indiana, who has been positively affected by that organization/product and have a unique story to tell about it. 


If you’re not getting an immediate response from a pitch, Smart says you need to press the urgency button to move your story to the top of the stack.

The follow up is just simply an inevitable part of PR. However, the follow up is when you need to be the most strategic. Share a new tidbit of info or point out a new time element to your original pitch.

I think the biggest hurdle media relations pros need to get over is feeling like a pest. I started out in sales and got used to rejection, so working with the media I’ve brought a lot of those skills to bear and usually just take a “no” to mean “not right now”. You might even get a “thank you” for reminding a media contact about an idea that might have slipped through the cracks or come to them at an initially busy time.

I left the Media Relations in the Digital Age session feeling not only rejuvenated to go out there and try a few new tricks, but also assured that what I was already doing was right and would eventually pay off. So, have no fear! Make sure that your media relations staff or agency partners are working smarter on your behalf by knowing your targets well, digging for your own gold, and being persistent. If you do, you’ll be on your way to successful placements and stronger media relationships. If you don’t want to take it from me, take it from Michael Smart. 

by Heidi Harmon

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