By Scott Westerman – W9WSW
The best way to build your network is before you need it. That’s why we practice emergency communications skills at events like Field Day and participate in Radiosport. That was the motivator for the famed Rocky Mountain Hams to build a state of the art broadband microwave network to facilitate high speed multimedia modes. Smart people who are thinking of a career change, get to know people who can help them before they come above the radar.
And so it is in the public relations realm. We live in a world where relationships rule. It’s crucial to get to know the key media contacts in your area before you need them. Here’s how to do it.
Do your homework – Find out who the key voices are at your local newspaper, radio and TV stations. Follow social media personalities who have significant traction in your market. And get to know who they are as people. What’s their backstory? What do you know about their family, education and home town? What made them decide to enter the business? What’s their beat? What kind of stories interest them most?
Be authentically interested in them – We’re drawn to people who are genuinely interested in us, individuals who can help us achieve our objectives. To build productive relationships with others, you must show authentic interest in them and help them achieve their goals.
Add value to their lives – Often times this may not even involve amateur radio. One of my favorite questions is, “What’s keeping you up at night?” With my vast network of ham friends, there’s almost always somebody who can help solve a problem, smooth out a bump or make an introduction. Think about these things as you plan your first encounter.
Making contact – Here’s my drill: When a new reporter comes to town, I send them a welcome email. “Just wanted to send you a personal note of welcome to East Lansing! I love watching 6 News and from what I can tell, you’re going to be a great asset to the team and a welcome addition to the community. Once you get your feet under you, I’d love to buy you a sandwich and learn more about your adventures.” Sign it with you name and title, followed by, “Avid 6 News Fan!”
This will almost always elicit a brief, grateful response that may include a phone number. Call it and set up that lunch.
You can modify the language if you’re the new person in the role, something like, “I’m Scott Westerman, the new public information guy at the MSU Amateur Radio Club. I’m sure our paths have crossed at some point, but I wanted to send you a quick fan letter to thank you for the excellent job 6 News does covering our community. I’m fascinated by what you do and hope we can grab a sandwich at some point so I can learn more about your backstory and how MSUARC can best add value to what you do.”
What to do when you are face to face – When the inevitable face to face meeting takes place, start out by focusing totally on them. “Tell me your life story,” is one of my favorite opening lines. People are fascinating and everybody has a unique tale to tell. Practice active listening skills and drill down for opportunities to add value to their personal lives. Always try to add value before asking for anything.
And when you do, frame it as asking for advice. How do you decide what stories get on the air? What are some of the most important issues you’re covering in the community right now? And finally…
What’s the best process for pitching a story about amateur radio?
That’s “the money question”, as they say in the biz. Each media organization has a process for how they like to gather information. Learn it and follow the rules. You’re more likely to get coverage when you do.
In the social media realm, you can talk about the personality’s content strategy. Based on your homework, you’ll already know more than a little bit about what they do. Social media fundamentals like providing link shorteners and great images will make it easier for someone to retweet your stuff. Ask them what kind of things they like to amplify and why. You’ll be in a stronger position to gain traction when you need it.
Be grateful – Follow the tried and true Japanese tradition of bringing a gift, something that’s likely to stay on their desk at the office. And end the meeting with a selfie which you can post with their social media handle saying something like, “Great lunch today talking #HamRadio w @6NewsJane. Love how they keep our community covered!” That’s almost guaranteed to get an instant retweet. Continue the relationship by retweeting their stuff as you see fit.
And always send a handwritten thank you note with a business card and one of your QSL cards enclosed. Personal notes are rare commodities today and will get attention.
Keep working on the relationship – Building productive media partnerships takes time. But it pays huge dividends. Beyond creating a welcoming environment for your stories, you will likely earn some good friends along the way. By entering the conversation with a goal of serving them, you are also reinforcing the foundation of why hams do what we do. We’re here to serve the community.
Build your media networks carefully, slowly and proactively. Like a well designed, carefully linked repeater system, they will serve you well when you need them most.
Have questions? How can I add value? Write to W9WSW(at)ARRL.net.