A good tool can only live up to its potential with the skill of a good craftsman. The carpenter’s motto of measuring twice and cutting once makes that point clearly. If a cut is made in the wrong place it doesn’t matter how many features the saw had.
Many years ago, when I first started with PR Newswire, I worked in the media research department. We contacted journalists in particular regions and industries to collect or verify their information, including what beats they covered and how they preferred to be contacted, for better targeting from our media database.
We spent a lot of time on the phone asking questions and explaining the importance of having the details correct so that mismatched pitches could be avoided.
I was rather passionate about PR Newswire’s database being an accurate targeting tool: a sharp and precise implement.
One day I was forwarded a call from an editor at a major publication who was upset because a PR person had called her with information about something that was of no interest to her and when she inquired where the person had gotten her phone number they directed her to us.
“I want to be removed from your database,” she said emphatically, explaining that she only takes pitches via email. Unsolicited phone calls were very distracting to her.
I sincerely apologized if information we had shared with our clients had been incorrect and led to an unwanted phone call. “I’ll gladly remove you completely from our database,” I said. But then I explained to her what I have explained so many times, “Removing your details may cause more unwelcome phone calls than it resolves. People can still find your contact information on your website and will make their own assumptions about how you want to be contacted.”
I looked up her information and found that actually we had her record correct. Quite possibly the person who had called her didn’t read all the information. It clearly stated she preferred to be contacted via email.
“My suggestion is that together we craft a very detailed pitch-note for your record,” I said.
She agreed and we came up with something that explained not only her dislike for unsolicited phone calls, but we also wrote something very specific about what she did want to hear about, because in the end she said she didn’t want all PR contacts to stop. She wanted better targeted pitches.
She and I were of the same mind and I continue to advocate for journalists to contribute to media databases, and to educate communicators on how to use media databases well.
A good PR professional will have a clear understanding of who they are reaching out to before an email is written or a phone number is dialed. That is how it should work and I think there are a lot of good PR people out there who do just that. They’re the successful ones who actually build relationships with the media.
Unfortunately people don’t always use their tools correctly. They don’t always measure twice before emailing.
How can you use a media database effectively and wisely?
- Know your audience before you start. Do some research and have an understanding of who you are trying to reach. Everyone wants to see their news in The Wall Street Journal , but will your audience be looking for your information there, or are you more likely to find your audience via a regional trade publication?
- Be creative with your searches. A good database will give you a variety of ways to search for outlets and contacts by name, subject/beat, region, circulation, etc. Do multiple searches and don’t select too many parameters in one search or you’re likely to have limited results.
- Try a keyword search combined with a region or industry. Just like any search engine, your results are only as good as your search terms.
- Refine your list. Don’t ever pitch everyone that came up in a search result. Good targeting, which results in media pickup requires careful screening. Start by scanning the publication names and subjects that came up. Remove contacts that are obviously not a fit. The keyword ‘cable’ might be in someone’s profile, but if it’s referring to television and your information is about a steel product, then that contact is not going to do you any good and you’ll be wasting their time. Continue scanning the data and removing contacts as needed.
- READ. There is no shortcut to understanding what a journalist or blogger writes about. Read their work to understand their focus and style. They may write about the industry you are targeting but perhaps it’s a blog that pokes fun at industry mishaps.
- Connect socially. A good database will provide links to a journalist or blogger’s Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ accounts. Follow journalists and bloggers that seem to be a fit and pay attention to what they are talking about and what they are interested in. What is it that currently holds their attention? Engage appropriately with thoughtful comments or by reposting/retweeting their work.
- Understand the pitch-notes. Before sending an email or picking up the phone to call anyone on your list, arm yourself with the information in the pitch-notes and be mindful of any special instructions or requests.
PR professionals should look to help journalists and bloggers by being a useful source of relevant content that is wisely pitched after careful research. Bonus points are earned if you are helpful beyond your own pitches.
Like those many years ago working in media research, I’m still passionate about helping journalists, bloggers and PR professionals make good matches. However it does take both sides working together: the journalist or blogger making their preferences known and for PRs to do the research necessary to make sure their story is reaching the people who want to hear about it. Working together we are all more efficient.