As I perused the Sunday Times this morning I was checking out all the bylines. Never heard of that particular journalist, better check out his/her bio, have we ever made contact with that person? Hmm, wonder if she’d be interested in the such-and-such pitch we’re working on. I’ll bet my fellow PR colleagues do the same thing. It’s an obsessive little habit---kind of like proofreading billboards, which I also do. The sheer quantity of bylines in the New York Times is nothing short of intimidating, which brings me to the point of this post.
It is impossible and entirely unnecessary to have a personal connection with every journalist in this great country and beyond. If you’re in PR I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. Inevitably you walk into a client meeting or new business pitch and the million dollar question pops up, “Who do you know at O!, The New York Times, or Today Show?” (or any other media outlet they dream of seeing their product or service rising to fame in). I used to waffle, drop names, and tell people what I thought they wanted to hear. Now I tell them, there’s an app for that.
And here’s where the art and science of media relations intersect. First of all, you must have good content—a solid, relevant, meaningful story to tell. Even if my BFFs were Kathie Lee and Hoda, we couldn’t get you on The Today Show without the right story. Once we identify your story it is critical to find the few journalists (and I do mean few) that the story is perfect for. And yes, identifying those journalists can often seem like looking for a needle in a haystack.
Here’s how we do it:
- Obviously, if my BFF works for Parents and we’re representing a revolutionary new pacifier I will call her first.
- More often I log into our proprietary media database (which for the purposes of this post is the app), a robust, web-based tool accessible from anywhere there is an internet connection. I search for journalists that cover very specific beats and use the software to manage the media relations process.
- Once I narrow down my list to a manageable number I research each and every journalist. The app even links to the last dozen or so articles written or segments produced so I can familiarize myself with recent work and look for clues on current topics of interest.
- I email the media contact first and customize the pitch according to the particular journalist. I cut and paste the press release into the body of the email or insert a link to avoid being another casualty of spam.
- I check back with the app to see what’s going on with my pitch. Has the email been opened yet? How much time was spent reading it? Were any links clicked? And the ultimate horror, was it deleted without opening?
- Then I do something rapidly becoming obsolete in our web-based world, I call the journalist on an actual PHONE! I cannot stress the importance of picking up the phone (see my archived blog post, We Give Good Phone).
- Ideally, because my pitch is highly customized and I know a lot about the journalist, he/she does not hang up on me and a conversation ensues. Because I’ve taken the time to build a viable pitch, I’m building trust and credibility with the journalist and they will listen to what I have to say.
- In the meantime, I’m tracking every email, phone call, conversation, and follow-up activity via the app so I don’t go crazy and I can show my clients why PR costs more than $1.99 per hour.
- Measure. Report. Repeat.
Now for fear I’m violating a Best Practice blog post by writing more than 500 words, I’ll get back to my Sunday Times. There are still a few thousand more journalists waiting to hear our awesome story ideas and they don’t know me from Eve.
FletcherPR is a national communications firm that specializes in reaching women through the power of media. Headquartered in Knoxville, TN with staff in Nashville & Los Angeles, we are a full-service agency providing strategic public relations, social media and marketing communications services to our clients throughout the U.S.