HOW TO BUILD RELATIONSHIPS WITH THE MEDIA

Jacob Kamaras discusses media relations

Episode aired Jan. 12, 2021: Media relations

Jacob Kamaras has been a reporter, an editor and is now an owner of a small media outlet. He knows what you have to do to build relationships with journalists in order to place your story. In this episode Jacob discusses 

  • What you have to present journalists when you email them
  • The importance of building relationships with media members
  • What to prepare in advance of pitching a story
  • Continuing the relationship after your story was posted and  
  • Why we need to change the term “nonprofit.”       

Below you can listen, watch or read this podcast episode.

Ephraim: Welcome to this edition of the Your Weekly Dose of Nonprofit podcast, the podcast that delivers actionable items you can implement at your organization right away. I’m your host Ephraim Gopin of 1832 Communications. Today I’m really happy to have with us a communications and media expert, Jacob Kamaras. Jacob how you doing today?

Jacob: I’m alright. I recently sustained an injury so I’m in a little bit of an unstable or different kind of place but I’m recovering and I’m ready to turn the page on the this month of December 2021. Let’s just put it that way.

Ephraim: Well first, before we get to it, we’re going to all wish you that you feel better and have a speedy recovery.

Jacob: Thank you.

Ephraim: Let’s introduce you to our listeners, watchers and readers.

Jacob Kamaras majored in politics and journalism at Brandeis University, where he served as editor-in-chief of the school student newspaper. He spent his first year after graduation covering sports for the Jersey Journal of Jersey City, New Jersey before gaining his first experience in Jewish journalism for The Jewish State, a weekly newspaper in central New Jersey. He was the editor in Fairlawn New Jersey for patch.com, the formerly AOL owned network of news websites, then returned to Jewish journalism in 2011 when he took a position as the first editor-in-chief of the national Jewish News Syndicate, launching the wire services product and growing its distribution to more than 75 Jewish community newspapers and websites across the United States.

In recent years Jacob founded his own PR firm, Stellar J Communications, where he continues to serve clients in the nonprofit, for-profit and government sectors. He’s also an associate at J Cubed Communications, a Tel Aviv-based international PR firm that represents numerous local and global organizations.

What Media Outlets Are Looking For

In today’s episode we’re going to discuss media pitches and communications. Let’s dive right in. Jacob, you’re an experienced news editor and know that not every single story is newsworthy. What types of stories are media outlets- TV, newspaper, radio, online- in general looking for?

Jacob: I think it depends. In my experience, the larger outlets these days, like a CNN or a Politico- is going for… I’m kind of sad to report that I think everybody is going for the same thing, which is just there’s a big mainstream story any day and people are just… I think that these news editors and networks feel obligated to top each other and just report the biggest news story of the day and everyone is pretty much doing the same thing. If you’re scrolling across your Facebook feed throughout the day like I am, you’re just seeing the same headline from 20 outlets. I think people are obviously looking at some kind of metrics but assuming alright, everyone wants to read about Covid, let me feed the beast. I said the c word but that’s okay.  I don’t see much originality.

I can say that niche outlets, more niche outlets whether it be religious media or anyone catering to a more narrow, specific audience… In my seat as an editor, I was trying to look for something different every time. Like to take a mainstream story and to provide some different voices or just a different, more unique angle on the mainstream story. That’s what I always try to do.

Research Prior To Pitching

Ephraim: Alright, so now we’ll take your experience and expand a little bit. What research should a nonprofit undertake before reaching out to a specific journalist or media outlet?

Jacob: It’s a good question. I think whether the nonprofit itself is conducting any survey research on an issue that they’re advocating for or whether that research is out there from other organizations which is highly possible, they should try- to whatever issue they’re promoting- they should try to find a few studies and statistics from reputable sources that can… information and trends that can back up whatever idea they’re promoting, just so you’re not sending the journalist or the editor something purely promotional.

In a way, you’re doing the work. The journalists will want to write about something actually trends based and evidence-based and not purely promotional and you sort of need to do the work for them, in your seat as an advocate. You sort of need to because some of these journalists don’t have the time to do that research themselves. So if you do the work for them, you’ll be likely to get through.

Ephraim: A quick follow-up to that with the research. If I have a unique story or local angle on that, is that something that they would be looking for as well?

Jacob: A local angle for local media? I would say yes. It would stand to reason the local media would want a local angle. Sometimes it’s good enough to just provide a local quote or connect them to a local source. Like if a major metropolitan daily newspaper could just cover a purely national story but might want just one voice from the community to talk about the national issue, that could be enough.

Building Relationships With Journalists

Ephraim: Cool. Okay. Please discuss the importance of building relationships with journalists and how that can help organizations place more stories in media outlets.  

Jacob: Oh gosh. I think if we’re talking about this, I think relationships are everything, like almost 100 percent. I can’t tell you how many times a story gets published… I think particularly when we’re talking about opinion, pitching opinion pieces to an op-ed editor, I think you just have to know who you’re dealing with and in my experience, if you have a warm relationship, that editor is probably going to post your piece. If you are cold, it’s like if you work in sales. If you’re cold calling, I’m sure the rate of success is three out of a hundred, something like that. So cold pitching and cold calling are the same.

If you have your nonprofit or you’re a publicist and you’re just going to the New York Times or something a little lower bar with a ready-made article or even to offer someone for an interview, if you’re cold emailing someone, your chances of succeeding are enormously low. So relationships are everything. Building the relationships takes time.

Again, I think in niche media this is easier. I’ll give the Jewish community as an example and we just have… we have a lot of outlets across the country in the Jewish community. Some are local, some are national and the organizations and publicists and everyone who has been working in this space has been doing so for a long time. Everybody knows each other, whether from trade conferences or just other platforms, associations and that system runs like a well-oiled machine because the relationships just have been worked on. You can send out your press release and people will see your name come across the inbox and know who you are and they’ll be like okay, sure, I’ll run a prime story.

Sometimes if you break through, if you get lucky… you know I remember once like unexpectedly getting a response from the San Jose Mercury News on an op-ed submission and I didn’t come into it with particularly high hopes. But then you have a relationship to cultivate in the mainstream media, because hey actually, this guy works for a major newspaper but he’s actually a nice guy. He might actually respond to me even with a no and by the way, no is a fine answer to hear. No is sometimes the best answer to hear on a submission because then you can at least move on to the next thing. So even someone who tells you no, that’s a good relationship.  

What To Prep Before Pitching

Ephraim: That’s important for people to hear. A no is not necessarily the end of the road. Let’s look at today’s actionable item. Please share with us three to four things an organization has to have prepared in advance before they reach out to pitch a story, whether it’s local or national.

Jacob: I would have first of all a pitch in itself. Just have three or four… keep it short. When I was an intern once at Bloomberg Wire Service and they didn’t talk about things in terms of paragraphs. They talked about things in terms of screens. Your email shouldn’t be more than one screen. You shouldn’t have to scroll. Whoever is receiving your email shouldn’t have to scroll down to read more. That’s usually two or three paragraphs.

You have a tight presentation, concise. Have supporting materials that an editor would need to publish the story right away. 

Don’t send it without a photo. I don’t know if your photo is going to be a boring headshot of the CEO of your organization. That’s not great but so be it. Preferably some sort of action, illustrative photo that illustrates the story.

Also have your sources lined up. If you’re representing someone, if you’re working with an organization, you obviously need the buy-in first from your organization, from your CEO, for other staff members. Hey okay, these are the people of my organization or outside experts who will talk to you Mr. Mrs. reporter. 

You need to have your next steps lined up. Who can this reporter or editor speak to next? Have that list. Don’t say that in the email but have it. Say I’ll be happy to connect you with more people. Know who those people are.

And finally prepare your people for that conversation should it happen. Yeah sure I can connect you with the CEO but make sure that your CEO will be articulate on this subject before offering them. You give them a few talking points as well. Sometimes it might seem like you’re reiterating the obvious to them but it’s still good homework.  

Ephraim: That last one is important. Don’t throw anyone to a media outlet without having to prep them in advance. I’ve seen what happens when you don’t prep them in advance. It’s not good.

Jacob: Actually it could be not good in terms of you won’t get a great story or you’ll get no story. The reporter will just say forget it. I won’t run something. Maybe that’s better in that scenario. We’re all going so hard after the link. Clients like we want a link. But you know sometimes a bad link is maybe worse than nothing.

Keeping Relationships Post Publishing

Ephraim: 100 percent. Let’s talk post  story. You made a pitch. It was accepted and your organization has now been featured on TV, radio or in the newspaper. What should an organization do post feature to maintain the relationship with the reporter and the media outlet?

Jacob: I think you’re right. With the media outlet, I think obviously promote their story on social, tag them, make sure that it shows the gratitude when you are going to feature their story on your channels as much as possible. I would say you’ll want to follow up with them on future stories but don’t be a pest. Give it some time and space. Don’t be that person who’s going to be capitalizing off the success so aggressively that the next week you’re going to send them another idea. Give it some time. Give it a few weeks or the next month or maybe some outlets or only the types of outlets that you’ll approach two or three times a year or once a year.

But yeah give it some time and space and maybe see how trying to think of opportunities. There might be opportunities for goodwill that don’t necessarily directly relate to your organization. You can connect them with some type of other idea that you’re not promoting but you just think it’s a good idea in a kind of a non-pushy type of manner. Hard to think of a specific example but those opportunities could be out there, as long as you’re maintaining the relationship over the long term. That’s the most important thing.  

Let’s Learn More About Jacob

Ephraim: Good. Let’s move to the lightning round and learn more about you. What got you started on your communications and media career path?

Jacob: I started out as a journalist. It was about 10 years in journalism that started out from an interest in sports and I was in college and got involved with the student newspaper and didn’t know the platform through which to be involved in sports but that ended up being writing. 

Early in my career that didn’t end up  being so practical, the sports journalism route so I pivoted to more Jewish community news and some other daily news and long story short, the whole journalism career lasted about 10 years. The last half of that was in the Jewish world with the national Jewish wire service and that position was kind of more of a customer-based position. I was running the wire service. We had subscriber publications and I was in touch with most Jewish news editors in the country.

But at the same time in that position I was really I’d say more as a high school sports reporter and those kinds of things. I wasn’t receiving any pitches. I was just receiving assignments but in the Jewish world I was definitely… especially as an editor in the Jewish world, I started receiving tons of pitches from PR firms and publicists promoting organizations and I want to say that I always… I think some investigative journalists or some journalists who can kind of only write a bad story or negative news and I was never that person. I always had a cordial or at least responsive relationships with publicists and firms. I would always- again at least give them a no if it was a no, rather than ignoring the email just out of common courtesy. Often it was a positive relationship and it was just another relationship that I did not see as adversarial. Even though they’re promoting a client and obviously doing it for financial gain, I saw it as a helpful relationship in some respects and towards the end of that, I eventually left my position in 2016 and didn’t know what to do next.

I ended up going back to the same news organization as a freelancer three months after quitting. I considered myself at that point this is like a failed pivot. What did I gain out of that. But there was one publicist who just reached out to me and updated me on what was going on with his firm and I updated him about myself and one thing led to another and I started freelancing for the firm. That was J Cubed Communications. I started going more and more into that world and then ended up starting my own business based on those connections in the PR world.

It even led to… I mean as a journalist, I was in touch often with the publicist who represented the Embassy of Azerbaijan to the United States. His name was Jason and I ended up also freelancing for Jason once I quit journalism. I never quit journalism. I always did a little bit of it even when I left the position but I ended up freelancing for Jason. Sadly Jason committed suicide but I eventually took on his client which was Embassy of Azerbaijan. So these relationships just lead to business in all sorts of ways and obviously I don’t wish that upon anybody what happened to Jason. Just there’s a story behind everything and the fact that somebody could continue his work for better or worse, it was important. So yeah, one thing led to another, from the journalism career to the communications career. Connect. Relationships. It comes back to relationships pretty much. 

Ephraim: There it is. It’s all about relationships. You’ve worked with quite a lot of  nonprofits and know about the nonprofit world. If there’s one thing you could shake up in the nonprofit world or change, what would it be?

Jacob: On a small scale I think it would be the name nonprofit. I don’t think… I think a nonprofit is still a business and you need to turn a profit in order to pay your people, in order to be successful and so yeah, this term nonprofit, I would just call them advocacy or mission-driven organizations. But I think the term nonprofit, also the reputation that comes with it, is a self-fulfilling prophecy. You have nonprofit professionals or people who work for nonprofit organizations I think become more complacent because of just this whole mentality of nonprofits.

Ephraim: I like that answer. Jacob, tell me why San Diego?

Jacob: Megan, who’s my wife, she grew up here from age 10 to around 18. Then she went to college in northern California, so she had roots in the community. Her parents live here and we were thinking about having children and then Megan got pregnant and it was just an obvious pick for us to move to a city where we would have support. Well it could have been New York where my family is. It could have been San Diego. We never really considered New York. I mean I love my family but I was excited about the lifestyle here and it was important for us to be near family. It’s a great city. I mean the weather is great. It’s just a beautiful place. Family was the number one thing.

Ephraim: Nice. Favorite kids story or book.

Jacob: Dragons Love Tacos. You ever heard of it?

 Ephraim: No.

Jacob: It’s just about um someone who is… so there’s a kid and it’s just a manual for how to throw a successful party for dragons.  

Ephraim: Nice.

Jacob: The premise is dragons really love tacos. So you have as many tacos as possible. But the key is dragons love tacos but they hate spicy salsa. You really have to avoid the spicy salsa. So there’s a little jar in the middle of the book and it’s spicy. It’s like mild salsa and then the fine print says with spicy peppers. So this kid, he gives the dragons the spicy salsa. They end up burning down his house because they get the fire breath from the spicy salsa. But then at the end of the book, they help rebuild his house as well. So it’s like the dragons become good samaritans and of course when they’re rebuilding the house, they have taco breaks and it’s just just a weird, awesome story.

Ephraim: Yeah that’s awesome. I know I never read it but that is an excellent choice. Excellent choice. Zumba, love it or hate it?

Jacob: I love Zumba. I can’t do it right now because of the injury but I really… In Houston- we lived in Houston for about four years- we had some of these fitness subscription. This was the app called Class Pass I think, where you can like go to different studios instead of being a member of one gym and I just chose Zumba and just like the randomness of it. Just like dancing around. I don’t get trapped in dancing with like reckless abandon, without a thought in the world. Just like getting into it and like not needing to mimic the instructor’s movements. Just going crazy. Just not being too serious about yourself or thinking about yourself too much. And it’s always a fun novelty. I’m usually the only man in the class. So yeah I love it. I love it.

Ephraim: Alright. Lastly we will turn the table. You get to ask me one question. I have no idea what’s coming. Go ahead. On anything, on any topic you want. I am an open book.

Jacob: Okay. Give me a second. Remote work, love it or hate it?

Ephraim: Oh god love it. My life’s motto is: If it requires pants it’s not happening. That’s it. If I don’t have to get dressed up for it and leave the house or anything… no I’m all for it. I know you do a lot of remote work also. You like it or you don’t like it? 

Jacob: I’ve worked remotely probably for the last eight or nine years for the most part. My job at the Jewish News Syndicate started out as an office job in Boston but then when I moved, I got engaged to Megan and she wanted to move to Los Angeles at the time. I asked to take my position remote. We just lived there for a year before going to Houston but once I was able to take it remote to Los Angeles, I was able to take it remote to Houston and then everywhere else.

For many years I enjoyed the convenience of remote work for sure and the ability to go to a different coffee shop every day is my office for the morning and then settle back at home for the afternoon and it was nice. I’m sort of over it though. It was hard during the early part of Covid because I’m fine putting on the pants and getting out of the house a little bit and like again, the early part of Covid took away my capability to work from a coffee shop. 

It’s funny. I used to tell people I work at Starbucks and it was like oh, do you serve coffee? No no. I just work on my  laptop.

I would say that at this point… I mean some people who work remotely get a lot of interpersonal interaction and they’re on Zoom all day now. Even though I have clients, I don’t have many phone meetings or Zoom meetings at all. So I’m just hunkering down and writing and editing most of the day. So I’m a bit over it. I think finding ways to foster more interpersonal interaction and things like that and even have some in-person meetings here and there. It’s always been a goal of mine in more recent years to ramp that up and maybe escape this remote work world if I can.

Ephraim: I totally get it. I’m all for remote work. I don’t mind meeting people in real life but I’m also all for remote work. If I don’t have to get dressed and go out. I’m good. I am absolutely good with that.

Jacob, thanks very very much for appearing on the podcast. You can learn more about Jacob number one, I encourage you to connect with Jacob on LinkedIn and number two, you can learn about Jacob’s latest venture by going to sdjewishworld.com It was a pleasure learning from you today. Thanks very much for appearing.

 Jacob: Thank you. Pleasure is mine.

Ephraim: Have a great day.

Jacob: You too.