Editor's Note: A version of this post originally appeared on the Mention blog earlier this year.
You send a pitch, supply a press kit and conduct an interview. Fingers crossed, a story is published covering your company’s news. You share the article on Twitter, send it to your friends and family and give your co-worker a high-five. Then it’s back to your day-to-day business.
The process to procuring press coverage is well-documented, with pages of helpful advice coming from journalists such as Colleen DeBaise and public relations professionals like Brooke Hammerling. But what’s the best way to thank a journalist after they turn your pitch into a published story?
We asked nine individuals in the industry, from a reporter at TechCrunch to a former correspondent for The Associated Press, this question. Though their responses differed, nearly all stressed the importance of staying in touch and every one shared caution of a major no-no: never give a reporter a gift.
“Feed them information but don't overwhelm them. Keep in touch and be nice,” he said. “Treat them like real people, because they are. That's all the thanks that they'll want.”
Could it be that simple? Yes, according to seven of the nine former reporters interviewed.
“The best way to say thank you to journalists who you like and who did good work covering your (company) is to give them exclusive stories or give them a heads up about future news,” said TechCrunch reporter Rip Empson.
That said, it’s important to remember that when you keep in touch you do so without expecting coverage, McCarty said. Rather, leave it up to the reporter to deem if the news pitch is deserved of a story. The outcome will depend on their own interest combined with their audience’s interest.
“If my publication focuses on creativity, I probably don’t want to hear about your sales tactics,” said Blanda, now managing director of educational site 99u.
Before future communication, an immediate follow-up with a reporter to say “thanks” for coverage is a must. But surprisingly, it’s often overlooked, just as it was in the example that started this post.
I know this first-hand as I wrote about businesses for four years at Silicon Prairie News, a blog covering the Midwest startup community. A majority of the companies I covered neglected to ever send a short email expressing thanks. Sure, they’d tweet about it and share it on Facebook, but there was no personal note in my inbox.
“What really matters is just the act of saying thank you,” said Empson. “An email or a note saying that they read the story and appreciate our taking the time is all we can really ask for.”
“A simple thank you email or a thanks in person in enough for me,” he said. “We're just doing our jobs. I liken it to thanking any one else in a service-type industry. Doesn't have to be a big gesture”
“Find a specific example that you liked, such as a nugget of good reporting, a particularly effective turn of phrase or a good explanation of something,” he said. “If the journalist perceives the feedback as genuine, he or she likely will remember the gesture for a long time.”
“That, believe it or not, is not an ego thing. It’s a confirmation that the story was accurate, fair and good enough that a subject feels the need to let his friends read it,” he said.
Beyond the social affirmation, sharing the story can simply help increase page views on the article, a plus for the reporter.
“My goal is to get the work read so anything to that end was much appreciated,” Blanda said.
In the end, the reporter wants to be assured that they wrote a fair and accurate story. Affirming this outcome is appreciated. Though if it’s not the case, it’s important to be tactful and complete in your response.
“When I was a correspondent for The Associated Press, I was most pleased when people I wrote about gave me honest feedback—with specifics,” said Reed.
“The best ‘thank you’ I ever receive is when the subject lets me know that a story was fair,” Santana echoed.
“The worst thing a source can do is send a list of ‘edits’ after a story is published,” she said. “It is absolutely an art to effectively communicate your message, and if the resulting story doesn't seem to explain it well, you probably didn't, either. Take it as a lesson learned and update your press materials!”
“What most people don't understand is that the best way to make a journalist happy and to thank them for coverage is to give them tips,” Empson said.
“Acknowledge that they cover mobile apps and companies, and maybe you know about a really cool app that hasn't gotten much coverage but is doing really well. Tell them about it!”
Empson said it doesn’t need to be as big as “Google buying YouTube.” Instead, it could be a small as a note that says, “I know you write about Education, and here's a really cool video I just watched on the future of digital learning, you should check it out!"
Reed offered the same advice, supplying a similar email example: "You showed a strong interest in x, so here is a great article on the subject that you might be interested in."
“Journalists are not to act in a way that comprises objectivity. This includes accepting swag for personal use, which is why blogs like Engadget are constantly giving away stuff,” Blanda wrote in his ebook Hacking PR: A guide for boot-strapped startups.
“What this means for you: If you take a journalist out to lunch or coffee, split the check. Don’t insist that you cover it,” he wrote.
Whether it’s something as small as splitting the check or as big as a bouquet of flowers, a gift gets you no where. Instead, it puts you and the reporter in an awkward place.
“I had to decline a gift once, and that was embarrassing for both of us,” Reed said.
“Sending a gift after a story is a bit weird,” Frankhauser said. “We don't like to feel like our work is transactional.”
Blanda said when it happened to him—a public relations firm sent him his favorite soda, a six-pack of Cherry Coke—it “felt a bit like a bribe.”
Santana had an example that involved a drink, too. “Occasionally people will cross the line by insinuating that the good story earned the reporter a free beer or something. I mean, it’s usually innocent but a reporter (at least me) doesn’t want any sort of insinuation of anything that would be ethically harmful.”
Embarrassing. Transactional. Bribe. Ethically harmful. These aren’t the words you want as part of your relationship with a reporter.
If you go around this advice, you should know that the gift won’t even remain in the hands of the reporter.
“About a year ago when a reporter did a story about Countryside Village’s remodeling plans, they sent a huge bouquet of flowers that I would guess would cost $50 if you bought it and had it delivered,” said Omaha World-Herald editor Deb Shanahan. “She donated it to a nursing home near her kids’ daycare on her way home that day.”
Whatever way you employ the above, or even if you don’t put one of the practices to use, at the very least remember that a relationship with a reporter shouldn’t be a one-time event.
“For me, it's frustrating when I write a story about a company, they say thank you and disappear only to re-emerge when they need something,” Empson said. It’s “the worst,” he added, when entrepreneurs see journalists as a means to an end.
So instead do as McCarty encourages and “treat (reporters) like real people, because they are.”
Thank you photo courtesy MjZ Photography.