Be helpful. That is often my last word and last piece of advice when prepping a client for an introductory meeting or interview with a reporter. If media exposure is important to you and your company's growth goals, you have to play the long game and form relationships with reporters. It's called public relations, after all.

The number one way you build relationships with journalists -- and ultimately get some media attention, too -- is by being helpful and not just when it comes to your story. If you approach interactions with journalists from a place of wanting to help, being quoted in news stories will follow. Here are four ways you can help a reporter out and perhaps score a top spot on their source list.

1. Be available.

When a reporter needs to speak to you for a story, do everything you can to make yourself available asap. I can't tell you how many times -- as a reporter and as a PR pro -- I've heard sources say, "I can talk tomorrow" or "How about next week?" It's a 24/7 news cycle. And we're talking 15 minutes of your time. Get with the program and get on the phone.

2. Stay in your lane.

Don't talk about subjects outside your expertise. Reporters need authorities and subject matter experts. If you know someone inside or outside your organization who can better help, let the reporter know and offer to make an introduction, too. You might not be quoted in that particular story, but I bet the reporter will remember you for next time.

3. Tone down the self promotion.

It's a conversation. You can show off what you know by treating it as a conversation and not a commercial. Let the conversation happen naturally. You don't have to make every answer about your product or services. Be helpful. Think about what the reporter's audience wants to know about the topic at hand.

4. Be pro active.

It's always smart to anticipate when a reporter might need expert sources. When you talk with reporters, make it clear they can contact you anytime for stories -- even it is just to be a helpful sounding board. Likewise if there is a story that breaks that has to with your industry and the reporter's beat, drop an email and let the reporter know you are available to talk if needed. And if you see a trend emerging in the marketplace, by all means let  reporters know. Reporters love trends.

And reporters love sources whose aim is to help them out.

Published on: Jan 29, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.