The Importance of Empathy in Media Relations

Michael Smart

Back in the old days, I was unconsciously obsessed with protecting myself from failure. I thought a lot about “leveraging” my media lists or my relationships with journalists to convince them to cover my story ideas. How do you do it? How do you do it effectively?

These days, I realize that a perspective like that actually built a wall between me and the people I should have been trying to help.

It’s important to realize we’re all the same, that everybody has relationship angst or family problems or worries about their health etc. — even journalists. When you get to that view, then you’re able to develop a good understanding of what life might be like in the other person’s shoes.

The word for this ability is empathy.

But I don’t mean the empathy they teach in the marketing books. That’s the version they tell you to “turn on” so you can sell something to someone. I’m talking about the real empathy. You can’t fake this one.

It means that you don’t just know the checklist of attributes that makes something newsworthy. You know what it’s like to be a journalist or blogger tasked with meeting a content or engagement quota.

You don’t just learn a template for writing a good pitch email. You can put yourself into your target journalist’s ergonomically correct chair and feel what it’s like to process 150 emails at 4 p.m. and still leave enough time to get another post up before picking up their son at daycare.

You’ve either done the work to have that kind of empathy or you don’t have it. People can feel the difference. Doing the work to have it is worth it, because once that work is done, you wake up and realize that you’ve outgrown words like “leverage.”

Do YOU want to be “leveraged?” Of course you don’t.

I think the best kind of media relations, and the most effective kind of media relations (long term), is the kind where you actually explain everything you’re doing out loud, right to your media contacts, and they keep coming back for more.


Michael Smart teaches PR professionals how to dramatically increase their positive media placements. He’s engaged regularly by organizations like General Motors, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Georgia Tech to help their media relations teams reach new levels of success. Want to dive deeper into Michael’s tips for landing more media coverage? Register for his Secrets of Media Masters workshop: http://bit.ly/mrmasters

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