By Rachel Sherman
Back in my college days, I worked at the News Office of my university. We were the flagship school in our state system and got a lot of press hits each day that would range from stories about our high-profile basketball team and our award-winning professors to significant tuition increases and unruly student behavior. The office was always buzzing with activity and my days there were never boring. While I learned so much about working with the press by watching the News Director and her team, the most essential lesson was the importance of building relationships.
These days relationship building is a lot different than it was back in my News Office days. When I was in college, there was no such thing as Facebook or Twitter, and I certainly didn’t know anyone with a blog. In fact, I remember a friend teaching me how to browse the internet! What stands out most in my memory is the amount of time the Press Officers spent on the phone talking to journalists, especially those at the local dailies. They knew each reporter well, and not just about their last story or what they were currently working on, but personal details as well. They met with journalists face-to-face, shook hands, asked about each other’s families, and then got down to the nitty-gritty of their jobs. These days, all of that can be pretty difficult to fit into 140 characters.
The art of relationship building has changed dramatically. Now a PR may never actually meet an influencer in person. Email and social media have replaced the phone for many. But, while the avenues of communication have changed, the basic principles have not.
Start building the relationship long before you need something. You’re much more likely to get traction if you already have a relationship with an influencer. Appearing and asking for something only when you need it isn’t going to get you very far.
Get to know them by more than their last story. Influencers get pitched a lot. You’ll stand out from the crowd if you read well beyond the last piece they wrote. Bonus points if you can dig up some details about their background (without being creepy!). You might just find that you have some commonalities that you can use to break the ice.
Be honest and don’t oversell. Like any other relationship, honesty will make or break it. Influencers are looking to engage with people they can trust. If you’re not reaching out to them with sincerity and transparency, they’d rather you not reach out to them at all.
Know how they want to hear from you. Some influencers want you to pick up the phone. Some don’t want to hear your voice at all. You might find some love Twitter for its limited character count while others think it’s a waste of time. Figure out how the influencer you are targeting likes to hear from you so you get started on the right foot. And don’t forget to pay attention to their deadlines – contact them outside of that window.
No matter how technology changes the way we interact with one another, some things will always stay the same. Keep true to the relationship building lessons you learned long before social media came along and adapt them to the way you do things now, and you’ll find yourself with a wide network of influencers who are eager to work with you!