I’ve been in the marketing and PR business for a long time and am now fortunate enough to enjoy a variety of PR and marketing assignments through my friends at Pipeline Media Relations, Marj Halperin Consulting and my own firm, Michelle Damico Communications. Through my many years in communications, my colleagues and friends have commented on my success in reaching out to the media to place stories on behalf of clients. So I thought it might be helpful to develop a series of blog posts that offer tips on what’s worked for me over the years.
Today I’m starting with the humble media list. It’s a task often relegated to the most junior staffers within a PR agency. If that’s you, take your time and do it right. If you’re lucky enough to work for a firm that pays for a media contact data base, take the time to dig deep within the list of provided reporters and their beats. Don’t take anything from a media database at face value.
If you don’t have a media database like Cision or Vocus at your disposal, you can still find the right media through the popular search engines. The same advice applies — take time and learn about them.
Why? During one of my first meetings with clients or prospects, I usually ask how they connect with the media. I learn about their extensive list of contacts, how frequently it’s updated and the source of their media data.
And then I ask about outreach: “How do reporters learn about your news?” They invariably respond that they send out emails en masse to all the reporters on their list. They know blasting emails is not the best way to establish media relations, but they lack the time to create customized, one-on-one emails to their long list of trade and general business media. I don’t even venture to ask whether the look up their favorite media on Facebook or Twitter; I already know their answer: “No time for that either.”
Rather than rush to judgment and criticize the practice of email blasting press releases to the media, I put myself in their shoes and express gratitude that they’ve come to me for help. Establishing media relationships is labor-intensive, requires the use of many tools, and has a very low initial rate of success, especially during your first three months of outreach. It’s no wonder that harried PR people juggling many tasks don’t invest the time needed for effective media outreach.
List-building is a case in point. Just this month, I launched media outreach on behalf of a client. The preliminary research alone to develop a solid media list took at a full-day’s work – and that’s while using an efficient online media contacts database.
Here’s what’s involved, just in list-building:
- Identifying the key topics, news and trends your client wants to talk about
- Identifying the appropriate media outlets, and the reporters and the beats
- Viewing media sites to see recent coverage and assessing the chances that the reporter might be interested in your client (you’ll often find that their identified beat, and what you perceive as their specific interest, don’t often match your PR goals, so dig deeper).
- Checking out others within the same outlet who seem to cover similar beats – but don’t – you can only know by reading their stuff.
- Identifying other ways to reach them besides email – are they active on Twitter or Facebook? Do they write a blog or have a personal web site? Are you following them? Why not?
- Finding mutual interests – whether it’s personal or professional – so you have something in common to get conversations started with the media via social networks
The eventual media list I built included lots of notes, to help me find genuine (not phony) connections with the media, either professionally or personally. Relating to them is one way to show you care, and to also show that you GET IT. GETTING IT is the key. What I mean here is walking in their shoes, understanding their needs and empathizing with their daily juggle of stories, deadlines and fears of their newspaper/magazine folding in the not-too-distant future. So you’ve spent a day or two and have a solid list built. Then what? I’ll have more on that later.