Make a list and check it twice

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What a lame title for a blog post right? As cliché as it is with the upcoming holiday season, it’s actually quite fitting for this discussion, one which I hope will at least get fellow PR pros, especially the up and coming stars, to think differently.

We. Are. Lazy.

We’re all guilty of it, and it even sneaks into our personal lives as well, but one place there’s no room for laziness is in the media relations we conduct on behalf of our clients.

We pitch or speak to the media about a number of topics. One day, you could be pitching a product; the next a service; the following day an expert – it can go on and on. Before you can do that, however, you have to know who to go out to. What media will you be emailing or calling (YES WE STILL CALL MEDIA THESE DAYS!)?

Some may say, “I built a list in Cision or Vocus. I searched the closest beat or topic possible, identified the parameters for the media I wanted to target and voila, my media list appeared.”

Wow, isn’t life great!?

If you don’t know any better, then yes, life is great!  You have what you feel is the media list of the century, one which is going to produce coverage out the wazu for your client and make you look like a superhero in front of your boss and your peers at your PR agency.  If you are experienced, then you’d know better than to take that automatically generated media list at face value and blindly pitch it.

The tools we use as PR pros are invaluable. At the click of a button you can bring up email addresses, phones, faxes, mailing address, etc., for nearly every media outlet in the country. They’re a Rolodex on steroids.  (As a side note, I’m not sure if many of those in Public Relations nowadays remember when Bacon’s was one gigantic book. That’s right – a big Yellow Pages for PR, in PRINT. Anyway, I digress.)

This is where I’d like PR pros to recondition themselves – think of that list as merely one part of a multi-step process for effective media relations. What are these steps? Here are a few to consider:

1) Take a deep breath, step back, and from the 30,000 foot perspective ask yourself – and when possible, your client too – ‘What does success look like? What’s the story we’re trying to tell?’

2) What are the assets you have at your disposal? Do you have review samples, statistics or findings? Are you coordinating an unveiling or a press conference? Bylined articles?

3) WHO ARE YOU TRYING TO REACH AND INFLUENCE? Are you looking to reach mainstream consumers? Consumers in a specific DMA or even a specific lifestyle? Trade or retail buyers?

4) Build out your target media list

As I mentioned above, the software and databases we have at our disposal are tremendous tools.  Without them, it would be very difficult to do our jobs as PR professionals; however, they can be flawed and as the title of this blog post reads, “Make a list and check it twice.”

With media relations, due diligence absolutely needs to be applied. That automated list you have in front of you is NOT perfect. Do not trust it – your reputation, your agency’s and your clients’ depends on it.  You may feel it is solid as you know you checked off all the right parameters when building it in the program, but things change within the media as they do in PR.  A writer’s beat could change and it may not have been updated in the program – it could even be COMPLETELY WRONG. An editor may have left an outlet. A producer no longer works on a show.  The ways that list can be flawed can be endless.

So what do you do?

For starters, vet the list. This is easier said than done if it’s a list of a few hundred versus a dozen; however, it must be done.  In doing so, you may find that there are reporters on that list that, while they may have a beat that on paper seems applicable, would never in a million years write or cover what you were about to reach out to them with.  Phew – good thing you caught that before you spammed them with a pitch that was so off topic that you tarnished any relationship building opportunity with them in the future, right? This is what unfortunately has tarnished our profession in the eyes of the media – and rightfully so.

Another tactic to consider, which in many cases builds a media list that’s more valuable than any automated one that’s generated, is a media audit. This is by all intents and purposes one of the most effective ways of building a highly qualified and accurate media list that you can feel confident in when it comes time to begin pitching.

Why is it so effective? In a nutshell, it’s because you’re essentially reverse engineering the story you’d like to see published.  Identify a media outlet that is top tier amongst your target list, and investigate. Search on a topic, a theme, a keyword. You can even search by your clients’ competitors.  In the end that will lead you to the right contact who you can then engage, of course, after you find out their contact details in Cision or Vocus.

More importantly, media audits provide INVALUABLE insight into the writer, specifically how he or she has covered the industry that’s relevant to your client and how they present content to their audience.  Being able to demonstrate that capacity in a pitch and tailoring your client’s message – or whatever it is you’re pitching – will give you a leg up and help your pitch stand out among the hundreds of others they receive on any given day.

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