Manar Al Hinai’s tips for UAE entrepreneurs: Relationships with the media matter

Why developing strong relationships with the media is key for your business, says Manar Al Hinai.

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As an entrepreneur, you will often have company and product announcements to make, so it's important to maintain a good relationship with the media. While some may say it is not their responsibility as they have a public relations agency that does the work for them, they should think again.

Regardless of who handles reporters or press releases on your behalf, it is still important to maintain a strong relationship with the media. At the end of the day, we need them to write reviews about our company and products, and developing such a relationship can open up opportunities you did not know existed.

Let me share a personal experience to explain further.

A few years ago, I started my own fashion label. Because I released a number of collections throughout the year, I needed press coverage of my line and myself as a designer. One of the first interviews I had was with The National, which published a feature about my designs and the concept behind the brand. I approached them directly with my story, and within a couple of days had met the reporter.

After the interview, we had some snacks and discussed our dreams and ambitions. I told the reporter that I loved making a difference in a creative way. I also told her about my love for writing and how I had been contributing work to several local media organisations. It was then she offered to introduce me to an editor at The National to discuss the possibility of contributing to the paper. At the time I had never considered such an option but I decided to give it a go.

I have now been a contributing columnist at The National for the past five years. Did I see the opportunity coming? Not at all. If the reporter and I had not a chance to discuss our ambitions over a quick snack, perhaps I would never have had this chance.

This brings us back to the importance of the entrepreneur -media relationship. Below are some ways that could help you build a relationship with reporters:

• Respect their time

Reporters work on tight schedules. Having them wait for two to three days to get back to them not only severs ties, but will prevent your business from securing the coverage it needs. So take note of the deadline they give you.

• Be aware of cultural styles

From my experience, the best way to reach Arabic media is via the phone or social media; for non-Arabs email works best. If you do not have their email addresses but are aware of their social media handles, then reach out to ask for the best email to pitch a story to. If your pitch works, keep note of that pitch email. If your subject line is what caught their attention then remember that for the future, or follow a similar email format when you reach out to other journalists in the future.

• Be focused

Don’t email the first journalist you find in an organisation – their beat may not be relevant to your company. Do some research and find out what topics they cover. Are they covering stories within your industry? When you make an approach, address them personally instead of using a generic address. You could compliment a recent article which you have found interesting. Doing so may result in a more positive response.

• Be thorough

When sending a pitch, offer information that may not necessarily be available to them. This will save the writer time. If they are doing a story about you, then a short biography with key information would be handy. If they are covering a story about your company, then send across the company profile, a press release if you have any, and any previous coverage about the business. Also offer to send some professional photos taken of you and your products if needed; again this could save time. Investing in professional headshots applicable for media can be extremely useful.

Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati writer and communications consultant based in Abu Dhabi. Twitter: @manar_alhinai.

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