Welcome to the next installment of iAcquire’s “Ask an Expert” series. This month we will cover an area that is very near and dear to my heart: media relations. This month, we polled media relations experts and journalists to get to the bottom of how to connect with today’s journalists, fueled by digital connections.
These tips apply to public relations professionals, SEOs, community managers, bloggers, and even journalists. Stop what you’re doing and learn how to maximize your impact as an online media relations professional featuring our expert panel including Jason Falls, David Meerman Scott, Lexi Mills, Peter Shankman, and more PR and marketing experts.
“How does online media relations differ from traditional media outreach?” & “What’s a surefire way to be successful in online media relations outreach?”
The best bet to be successful in media outreach, whether online or offline, hasn’t changed in 100 years. Do your damn homework. It’s never been easier to find out what a reporter covers, the last ten stories they wrote, what their preferences are, how they like to be pitched, and what they look for, than it is today. If you’re not doing your homework, you have no business calling yourself a publicist.
Find out what they’re posting on Twitter. Find out what they’re posting on other social networks. Where do they hang out? What do they like? This doesn’t mean to stalk them, but to be unprepared in this day and age is simply unacceptable.
The honest truth is that online media relations is not at all different from traditional media outreach. But online media relations has forced the public relations world to come to the realization they’ve been doing traditional wrong. Because many online voices are either amateurs or at least not trained journalists, the typical email spam of press releases doesn’t go over well. As PR folks began implementing their traditional outreach efforts focused on these individuals, some bloggers reacted with vehement disgust they were being spammed by public relations folks. The mistake many in the PR world have made is to say, “Online media relations is different.” The mistake is they should be saying, “The way we’ve been doing media relations is broken.”
Traditional spray and pray outreach is spam, too. Only trained journalists and media members have become so numb to the inundation, they don’t point out the irrelevance that overwhelms them daily.
Media relations is about relevance: Knowing which media outlets (or their audiences) that will find a particular story or pitch relevant and delivering that relevant message to the relevant audience at a relevant time and in a relevant location. Downloading 400 media members tagged with “food” out of Vocus or Cision and blasting a generic press release to them is everything but relevant.
Good media relations is still done the way it always has been: One-to-one, relevant, personal and real. Not automated, blast-driven, impersonal and formulaic.
The sure-fire way to be successful is to focus on relevance. Go for quality of outreach and placement, not quantity. The less we can fill people’s in-boxes with irrelevant topics to them, the more those media members will respect PR outreach in the future.
Unlike traditional journalists, bloggers write about whatever we feel like and we aren’t obligated to “tell both sides of a story” or “cover your news.” The best blogs are written by people who are passionate about a topic. With that being said, read the blog, discover the passion, and pitch something that the blogger will be interested in.
Here’s how to be successful in online media relations:
- Broadcast pitches are spam. I love hearing about something interesting before others. If you’ve got a great example of marketing success, tell me! But don’t send me something that you also send to hundreds of others.
- Never open with “Dear Blogger”. Dear Blogger tells people that you don’t care enough about them to read their blog and learn their name. It’s much better if you personalize your pitch with an appropriate greeting and some detail about why they were selected.
- Make it short. I won’t read a long email. A few sentences about what you’re pitching and why is great. If I want more information, I’ll ask for it.
- Never send an email attachment. Links are okay but attachments are not.
The tools of online media relations are different, but the philosophy is the same: know thy target reporter/outlet; know thy pitch.
The days of pitching reporters over the phone are (or should be) over, as we all live on email. Also, the speed has changed – not just for us reporters working on a daily deadline, but also for PR folks. Since many of us are on daily deadlines, PR people need to be available. I can’t tell you how many times, after an interview, as I’m writing, that I need to speak with the company and I get no response because the source and/or PR person stepped out for lunch or got pulled into a meeting. The PR pro needs to understand that even after the interview, your work isn’t done.
To be successful in online media relations it goes back to the first two commandments above. If you want to be a media relations champion, you have to know what the reporter covers on a daily basis. You have to know what the outlet covers. Some other commandments: You have to know to not be over aggressive — if you pitch me at 10 a.m, don’t follow up at noon with a second email and then a phone call at 3 p.m. You have to know to not reach out to multiple reporters at the same publication with the same story, and definitely don’t contact the editor if a journalist doesn’t get back to you. You have to know that you’re never, ever the story. Don’t interject your thoughts during the interview. You have to know what the word “exclusive” means. And it doesn’t hurt knowing what a reporter’s favorite beer is when you want to build a relationship.
Being on both sides of the fence, first as a communications professional, now as a reporter, I empathize with PR folks, especially at agencies where you’re under the rigid control of your VP as well as your client. But don’t make things harder for yourself by not knowing who you’re pitching, what you’re pitching, where you’re pitching, and most important, why you’re pitching. Not everything is a story, no matter what your bosses say.
Any public relations professional would relish the opportunity to exert additional control over their media communications. But many PR pros – and politicians, business executives, and others in the media spotlight, for that matter – fail to use social media to their full advantage.
Most of them don’t consider this simple question before their media interviews: “What’s my tweet-worthy soundbite?” If you spend time in advance of any interview coming up with a memorable soundbite or two, you can influence what people tweet and retweet, what they “like,” and what they “pin.” Planning your tweet-worthy quotes before your interview allows you to gain some control over what audiences end up sharing. On the flip side, it also means you’ll squander that opportunity if you speak in long sentences without any natural break points.
A tweet-worthy sound bite should be short (no more than 100 characters), simple, memorable, and on-message. During a 2012 presidential debate, for example, President Obama quipped, “We also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military’s changed.” That 87-character rejoinder met all four of the categories above—and became so popular on Twitter that it spawned its own hashtag.
So before your next media interview, take full advantage by developing a tweet-worthy sound bite.
The two [online and traditional media relations] are no longer exclusive of each other. That’s because “traditional media” (newspapers, magazines, TV and radio) are now online. Journalists and broadcasters are blogging, tweeting, connecting on sites like LinkedIn and Google+, and creating Pinterest boards.
Traditional media are also turning to their own readers and viewers to contribute news and content. Local TV stations and national news outlets invite viewers to upload their own videos to the media outlets’ websites. CNN actually has an entire page devoted to teaching people how to provide content at http://ireport.cnn.com/. These citizen journalists provide articles and video on a variety of topics.
There is one major difference between traditional media outreach and online media relationships. In the old days, PR people and anyone who did their own self promotion had to pitch traditional media, and hope their stories were covered. If reporters and TV news editors deemed you unworthy of coverage, you were out of luck, unless you wanted to pay for an ad.
All that has changed. Today, everyone can become “the media.” That includes bloggers, guest bloggers, experts who write for news or feature websites, graphic artists who create infographics, video publishers who have their own mini-TV channels on YouTube, podcasters who have their own radio shows online and citizens journalists like Eric Olsen who reported on the cobbler.
Because “the new media” is producing so much online content so quickly, the traditional media have lost their power to control what gets covered and what doesn’t. Many of them are trolling online discussion forums and LinkedIn groups looking for trends, sources and story ideas. Some of them have their own Twitter accounts. When they need sources for a particular story, they send a request via Twitter to their connections. It’s a fast, easy way to find sources.
To be successful in media outreach? Build relationships. Find out who needs content, and provide it. Look for journalists who are blogging. A reporter’s blog is a goldmine of information on the topics she thinks are important. Research podcasters who discuss your areas of expertise. Comment at blogs where your insights would be welcome.
Rule #1 for succeeding at online media outreach: Give before you get. Always.
The rapid rise of social media in all of its forms combined with easier-to-produce digital content have been huge for public relations professionals – especially those who always knew that public relations was more than “getting ink.” Regardless of whether your public relations resources are in-house or at an agency, it’s time to rely on them for what they really do – build and protect brands and reputations using all of the available tools – paid, earned, owned and shared.
Does that mean media relations has gone away? Absolutely not. Human beings – especially those making big decisions and forming critical opinions – will always seek out trusted third parties for advice and validation and as such media relations needs to be part of any content marketing strategy. But the media is redefining itself, and that means we need to redefine our perceptions of who the media are. Those trusted third parties might be traditional media outlets, but they also might be influential bloggers or even socially connected early adopters. Our job is to find them and give them content that they will find useful enough to share with their readers and viewers. That’s critical, because most media outlets – whether formal or informal – don’t have the same resources to develop as much original content as they had in the past, so we need to be even more diligent about creating content that’s useful and not just promotional garbage.
Media relations is media relations is media relations. Knowing how to effectively communicate with media in order to achieve coverage is the end goal. Online media relations should be a subsection of your overall media relations plan. Know who you should reach out to online…or email…or by phone. Over the course of a media list, you may use a handful of outreach methods.
The impact of digital platforms on PR professionals has completely changed the game in so many ways. The most important is that you can connect with media members on a much more personal level. You can see pictures of their kids on Facebook, links to articles they shared on LinkedIn and their quick thoughts on Twitter. When you are pitching a story, having that basic human connection can make all the difference. From another perspective, the online community of communications professionals provides immense amounts of professional development, networking and career opportunities on a global scale.
I never worked in a traditional media landscape, but can only imagine that the overall ease and speed of communications has improved and picked up. You can send pitches and story assignments at the click of a button, find stories by means of a social media feed, etc.
Also, you sometimes build a faceless relationship with people. Everything is done over email, so you may go back and forth on stories with writers and reporters for months without ever having met them in person or even talked to them on the phone.
I don’t think there is a “sure-fire” way of being successful at anything. You can better your chances though by what I simply feel is practicing polite persistence. Sometimes, a story or pitch idea might not strike an interest with someone. However, if you follow-up, act personable, tailor your message to your audience, and aren’t altogether pushy, chances are, you’ll gradually build a better relationship with your media contacts. From day-to-day, you don’t know what a person’s schedule is like. Perhaps the first time you sent a pitch, their inbox was just flooded. It can make it difficult to always respond to everyone no matter how much you may like to.
I don’t think traditional and online PR are separate anymore, there is a digital footprint for all PR work, its just the quality of this footprint that varies which is largely driven my the clients KPIs. For many PRs their targets are still set around coverage hence they develop strategies to meet these targets.
I am working with a web based business at the moment called bathrooms.com who has set KPIs against influence criteria rather than just coverage, which means we have designed their strategy to meet those objectives, leveraging both traditional PR skills and digital marketing skills to build a set of activities that meet both PR, Social and SEO objectives alongside building out a Google author rank strategy, something that is unheard of for traditional agencies and still pretty rare in digital PR firms.
Telling a great story well is still at the heart of digital PR, however how you chose to deliver it has changed. Considering what digital assets you can create to make your story more appetizing to online media is key. A bit of design know how is important too, making sure these images and graphics are the right format and dimensions for online media sites is critical. Far too often I see media packs with loads of portrait images and videos, when in truth most website prefer landscape!
PRs focused on the online space need to be more careful about which publications they target online, assessing which sites are SEO safe for coverage.
Determining who you might give exclusives to used to be about which publication was the most important to your brand, whereas now you may consider sites on the basis of their website strength or blog which a specific niche influence.
PRs who embrace online tools and analytics will not only be far more impactful in their PR work and ROI measurement but also be able to provide other benefits especially for clients who have their website at the core of their business.
New media allows PRs to contact publications in a variety of ways and allows for PRs to get to know their ‘target’ well in advance of speaking to them, the art of online stalking is now key to digital media/blogger outreach. I feel there is no excuse for not knowing the type of language someone uses, their writing style and what the weather is like where they are before picking up the phone. If speaking to an editor putting the website through Open site explorer will give you a very good idea of the types of articles that work best for them allowing you to tailor you strategy and pitches accordingly.
Understanding if you are contacting a blogger type persona or a busy news desk can be hard in the world of online publications and the email copy for each is very different. News desks want quick and to the point emails, where as less busy publications will be far more responsive to a longer more personal email. Online media databases are also struggling to keep up to date details about the growing amount of publications, so finding the right email/contact details can be hard. If the site has a submission box I often check the source code on that page, sometimes you strike lucky and it will show you the email address it is going to. If that email address has a name in it, then I can adjust my email greeting appropriately, if its just a general email, then I treat it as if I am contacting a news desk.
In bygone days when doing international outreach or even local, knowing if the journalist is available to speak required knowledge of their weekly schedule, these days I always check if their online by looking at their twitter feed. If they have been tweeting lots then you know they are more likely to be available to talk or read you email, if they have been silent for a couple of hours you might be best to wait until you see some activity from them again.
The internet also allows the media to have a voice and say how they like to be contacted, putting those PRs who take the time to find this information at an advantage. Technology journalist Charles Arthur is a great example of this.
There are varying opinions on whether traditional and new media journalism is the same, but there are also clearly commonalities on to how to communicate and establish relationships with them. Spray and pray PR does not work: it’s all about creating meaningful relationships that go beyond spammy mass pitches. Whether that’s researching their interests and past editorial coverage, developing a relationship with them prior to any sort of “ask”, or even offering help, there is a finesse that goes into a PR’s relationship with a journalist. New media has broadened the definition of journalists, has allowed us to communicate through more mediums, and at the same time brings forth additional hurdles.
What do you think? Do you have any additional tips for media relations 3.0?