Freelance writers and reporters are an often-overlooked segment of the media who represent great potential for publicists who are paying attention.
That was the case during my tenure as a freelance reporter for the Chicago Tribune (1999-2005), among other publications, and it’s even more the truth today.
For one thing, this is a highly motivated bunch, compensated when they produce work, not for simply “showing up” at the office. In addition, with a longstanding trend of layoffs and cutbacks from media companies, this is a growing pool of prospects with the talent and connections to shepherd a story from conception to publication.
As a result, you are at a distinct advantage when you can offer at least a solid concept or, better yet, some well-communicated material that enables them to see how they could complete a story.
Before that all plays out, though, you’ve got to establish a connection, which flows from three basic steps:
Acknowledgment of the individual’s freelance status
Simply communicate your awareness of the individual’s role as a freelancer, whether generally or by citing specific publications or sites where his or her work appears. No need to belabor the point, or to pour on compliments about their work—unless there is something that you can specifically cite.
Awareness of the value of quality story ideas
Freelancers are paid for production—the completion of stories. So they don’t want to run down rabbit trails and deal in speculative pie-in-the-sky story ideas. Explain the mutual benefit that you foresee in creating the relationship. Always see things from another's perspective: what’s in it for him or her? If you are someone who offers the potential of delivering them relevant, high-caliber story ideas that they can successfully pitch to editors, then you’re someone they’re going to want to know.
Invitation to connect further
If you are making your initial contact by email, then suggest a follow-up 15-minute phone call so that you can get to know each other a bit more. If your first contact is a phone call, try to book a time to meet in person.
That follow-up meeting, in turn, will educate you about the freelancer’s areas of interest and preference for being contacted.
This all works so much better when you keep the long-term picture in mind. Ideally, you will have a few ideas to suggest from the get-go, but don’t shift too aggressively into sales mode without gauging the relative interest an individual may have in what you’ve got to offer.
It's not about meeting a looming deadline, but fostering a relationship that spans countless deadlines well into the future.