Back when the Internet was just a government-funded computing project, effective media relations was all about building relationships with reporters. Sure, organizations sent press releases, but the real work went into Lexis-Nexis searches of a reporter’s articles, analysis of the reporter’s interests, and personal contact to discuss what you might be able to do for the reporter. The reporters who gave my companies the best coverage where those I had lunch with, contacted with leads that crossed my desk but had nothing to do with my client, got to know on a personal level.
When media relations responsibility was first handed to me, I called my friend Wilma Matthews—one of the best in the business—and asked for advice. “Your job,” she said, “is to make the reporter’s life easier.”
I agree with almost all of this. Certainly you want to read a reporter’s past work. Certainly you want to send reporters tips that will interest them, whether or not such tips involve your client. And it is most certainly our job to make it easy for a reporter to cover our clients and get the story on deadline.
Where I draw the line is being friends with reporters (as distinct from having friendly relationships). The public is best served if there is a certain creative friction between flacks and hacks. We each have our role in the ecosystem of public debate and we get into trouble if we become too chummy with one another.