It’s true, no matter how good your PR pitch, a newspaper is never going to write about your story. Neither will a magazine, website, newsletter, journal, or blog. And a television or radio program isn’t going to cover your story either. If anyone covers your story, it’s going to be a reporter (or blogger, producer, podcaster, etc.). People write stories, not publications.
This may seem obvious, but time after time, PR teams develop media lists based on the target outlets they’re going after, rather than the individual sources they plan to target. Clients want to see big-name outlets on that media list, so they feel better about the investment they’re making. I get it, but it’s the wrong way to develop a media list. I’m sure many will disagree with this point, but I’ve rarely seen the first pass at a media list that only included the most appropriate journalists for a particular story. It’s usually a list of best-case outlets, with equally recognized journalist names. What client doesn’t want to believe their story is good enough for BusinessWeek, The Wall Street Journal, or CNN?
Targeting the right media contacts takes a lot of work. Far more work than is involved building a targeted list with PR software products offered by Vocus, Cision, PR Newswire, or BurrellesLuce (to name a few). These tools make the initial work easy, but targeting goes far beyond this initial effort. These solutions should never replace a research-intensive effort to develop a good target list, but rather provide a jumping-off point for more intensive targeting and refinement.
To set yourself up for the greatest success, your media list development should include the following steps:
- In-depth analysis of target audiences and media consumption – where do your target audiences get their information? This may not be a traditional media outlet. They might get their information from friends, Twitter or an RSS feed.
- Clear identification of messaging goals and story options. What stories will you use to convey your message to these target outlets? Are there particular timing elements that increase/decrease your chances of success? A busy news week may hamper your efforts if there are a lot of breaking news stories. Likewise, tie-ins to such events can increase your chances of coverage. Finally, how can you vary your story angle to be most appealing to each individual outlet’s editorial focus?
- Who is the best contact at each outlet? Who regularly covers the types of stories you’re writing about? I often see multiple contacts listed for each outlet on an initial media list. This screams “we’re not sure who the best contact is.” If you don’t know who the best contact is, you haven’t done your research. And don’t believe everything you read in the “pitch tips” you have on file, there is too much change going on right now to predict the viable shelf-life of such information. Read at least 10 of your target contact’s recent stories and develop a feel for what they write about, how they write about it, and what they include for information in the story.
- Contact your peers. Somebody knows the best way to approach the journalist you’re targeting. If you see favorable coverage of a company by a particular journalist, reach out to the PR person that placed the story. What worked for them? Many won’t want to share this information, but you’d be surprised how many will, particularly if you’re not a competitor.
- Use all resources available. For example, monitor Twitter feeds for the contacts you’re targeting. You can learn a lot about the journalists interests and current pursuits this way; providing you with valuable information for developing your pitch to best appeal to each contact.
- Consider reaching out the journalist themselves. Why not contact the journalist to learn more about what they look for? Ask them if they’d be interested in a story like the one you’re pitching. If not, what would make it more interesting next time around? Of course, before you do this, review all information you can provide on the outlet’s website, the reporter’s blog, and any past interviews they’ve given on the subject. It’s also a good idea to know how a particular journalist decides what to write about. Most journalists provide some form of pitch tips on their websites. And most complain that PR professionals don’t read them before contacting them. Read them.
- Prioritize your contacts. Everyone isn’t going to cover your story. Prioritize your contacts starting with the person you’d most like to cover your story. If you use this approach, and the contact wants an exclusive, you’ll be in a much better position to provide one. Get away from the mass pitch approach. Target journalists on a one to one basis, starting with the ones that are most important to the success of your campaign. It’s important to set client expectations with this one, help them understand how the process works.
- Limit your targets. Clients may be impressed with a 100-outlet media list, showcasing every possible outlet you can generate coverage in. I think they’d be more impressed if you gave them a media list showing the ten most important outlets, especially if you planned to focus most of your energy on those. In any endeavor, a focused effort on fewer objectives will yield better results faster. A focused media relations effort targeting the 10 most important media outlets will generate more ROI for the client than a mass distribution pitch. Always.
- Tailor your pitch to each individual contact. This doesn’t mean you change the name on each pitch. I’m not suggesting you tweak a template for each contact, and I’m not suggesting you should ever use “cut and paste.” Journalists are wise to this approach, show them some respect and take the time to write a pitch just for them. It’s only fair if you expect them to spend time writing about your story.
- Share your information. Help your team become more effective. I’m amazed by how many agencies have poor systems for collaboration around media relations. If you don’t have enough seat licenses for your PR software, and you can’t afford more, use a different system to share information. A shared Google Spreadsheet can do the trick, but an affordable CRM system could be even better. If you work in media relations, this investment should be a big no-brainer.
- Track your performance. Beyond providing a clip report to clients, track your media relations performance like you would a sales funnel. Starting with your targets, work to “close” an opportunity with each outlet – make it specific to a campaign. Set close dates and project your results. Aggregate your results over time, and you’ll be able to provide current and future clients with more accurate and predictable coverage estimates.