Keeping hold of your media relationships is vital during mass layoffs

Keeping hold of your media relationships is vital during mass layoffs

How you can be there for your fallen comrades (along with some practical advice).

2024 kicked off with a brutal industry cull, with publishers like TechCrunch, Vice, CNN, The Washington Post, Sports Illustrated, Forbes, and a gazillion others firing even veteran writers and editors left, right, and centre. While journalists weren’t the only people affected – indeed mammoth businesses like Amazon and Google seemed to love the trend so much that they decided to jump right on the bandwagon and lay off hundreds more of their own valued staff – they were one of the professions hit hardest.

It’s a dark time for writers, coming hot on the trail of 2023’s Q4, when everyone and their questionably literate CEO was insisting that you should outsource half of your writing to ChatGPT. Now this.

And while journalists are already getting back to their feet, brushing themselves off, and getting ready to take another run at the proverbial bull, realistically it may be a while before your old contacts are back in action.

In the meanwhile, you need to find a way to stay in touch.

If, when the guillotine falls, you have only their (previous) work email – or contact details bought from an online media database – then that's them gone forever.

Now is the time to cement the relationships you want to keep.

Because as well as being really catastrophically brutal, the editorial layoffs do at least give you the opportunity to grow your relationships with the colleagues you value most, who you know will be great to work with wherever they end up.

What is crisis comms? A practical guide for beginners [2024]
What is crisis comms? A practical guide for beginners [2024]

Or, what to do with all those lemons.

3 things you can do right now to safeguard your best media relationships

1. Email or call your best contacts (even if they're not getting fired anytime soon)

It’s no time to play coy. Right now, if the only way you can reach your best media contact is through their work email, you’ll have no way to stay in touch with them should they jump ship (or get violently pushed). So message them, tell them outright that you value working with them and that you can see this being a mutually beneficial relationship for many years to come, and ask what the best way to maintain contact is.

An email unaffiliated with a specific publication would be ideal, since that would keep neither of you beholden to the whims of a flimsy third party, but if they prefer LinkedIn or some other social platform, use that.

2. If they’ve been let go, check in and see if you can help

Email, reach out on social media, drop them a DM and ask them how they’re doing. That goes without saying if you already have a friendly working relationship, but even if you aren’t that close, this is the time to offer support.

If this is a relationship you want to invest in keeping, then show up at a time when you can be of most use.

Think, is there a way you can help this person now, or even weeks down the line?

Keep an ear to the ground for opportunities that could be a good fit for them, tag them in posts that call for experts in their field, be the one who puts them in contact with someone who can help.

Maybe you’ll stumble upon a job opening, a resource like Erik Sherman’s advice from freelancers to journalists who were laid off, or my personal favorite, McSweeney’s typically satirical piece to commemorate the occasion, Our Company Is Doing So Well That You're All Fired.

Whatever it is, if you believe it could help, share it with them.

Jobs come and go, and if you only speak with people when you want something from them, then you won’t get very far in forging long-term relationships.

And don’t forget to just ask how they are; in fact, as Frank Strong suggests in his episode of Michelle Garrett’s PR Explored, ask them twice.

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3. Keep those contact details somewhere safe

This should be a place that you own – ideally a CRM, something that will let you get a good overview of your history with each person, and importantly, something that won't lock you out of exporting those contacts whenever you want to. Don’t lock yourself into any one tool.

Be sure to also add them as contacts to your email so that they can reach you without accidentally falling into your spam (again, use your independent email that isn’t affiliated with your place of work). By all means, add them as connections on social media, just be aware that if that platform restructures, or they choose to leave, that’s your connection with them gone – so have a backup.

The key to building relationships with journalists
The key to building relationships with journalists

It’s all fairly standard advice really, when you think about it. It can be easy to panic when you check your inbox and see that all your pitches have suddenly began to bounce, but instead of rushing to find another way to get through to the same outlet, give yourself the time to check in with the people who have been there for you before, and see if you can lend a hand. After all, the roles may well switch one day, and I know I for one would appreciate the sentiment.

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