How to find the right reporters to pitch

IMG_0464In the PR over Coffee blog I tend to focus a lot of time on how to make your business newsworthy, reach out to busy reporters and create effective press releases. I’ve even written about how to use PR to improve your search engine rankings, tarnished brand image and appearance for TV interviews (beware of white shirts!).

What I haven’t spent much time discussing is how to actually find reporters – both locally and nationally – who could potentially be interested in your latest news. Incredibly enough, finding the right reporters to pitch is possibly the most important ingredient in a successful media campaign next to having something newsworthy to share.

So how about we spend a little time looking at how you can research, identify and target reporters with your next news announcement?

Target Media: First, decide on what kind of media outlets you want to target. If you are an architecture firm in downtown Dallas or a new web service for dog sitters in Detroit, you need to decide what media outlets matter most. Start by asking what your target customers like to read or watch. If they are 20 somethings, chances are they don’t watch much TV and tend to get their information from a wide variety of online sources. If they are CIOs and tech executives in healthcare, then they probably read a fair number of healthcare IT and traditional IT trade publications.

National vs. Local: Media outlets are as numerous and varied as Lady Gaga’s costumes or Microsoft’s security patches. Are you in the fitness industry? There are literally 1000s of media outlets and reporters covering the fitness industry from new products to new fitness startups. This includes reporters for local newspapers and TV news show as well as national fitness magazines and popular day-time shows like Dr. Oz.

As a general rule, it’s much easier to get covered in local news than national news. For most small businesses that’s a very good thing. After all, the average small business sees most of its customers coming from a relatively concentrated geographic area – a small town, a suburb, a discrete neighborhood in a large metro area like SoHo in Manhattan or SoCo in Austin. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that consumers learn about what’s happening around them by watching local TV news shows, reading local newspapers, magazines or online cultural ezines, and listening to local radio stations.

Startups and emerging growth companies, however, tend to play in a much larger market – regional, national and even international. While local media coverage for a tech startup is valuable from a credibility perspective, getting blogs like TechCrunch, VentureBeat and Gizmodo to write about an amazing new technology or Series A funding is far more impactful.

Internet Research: An Internet search engine like Google or Yahoo is a valuable tool for finding media outlets and reporters that have covered your industry in the past. Use key search terms that relate more directly to what your business does or you may end up talking to the wrong journalist. Taking our earlier healthcare IT example from above, your search can start more broadly: “IT magazines,” “IT blogs,” and “tech news.” But since your company is probably focused on a niche of healthcare IT you might want to refine your search to include more specific terms: “healthcare IT news,” “mobile health IT news,” and “Healthcare IT trends.” Some of the searches may return company websites; but, hopefully, you will find a few media outlets and, more importantly, the names of journalists who actively cover the industry. Be sure to take down the media and journalist contact information including website address, emails, Twitter names (of media outlet and journalist) and note any past coverage of your specific topic.

Competition: What are your competitors doing? Have they been covered by the media? If so, figure our which media outlets and journalists covered them so you can add them to your media list. It’s a fast way to build out your media list.

Read, Watch & Listen: Another great way to find media outlets interested in your business is to actually follow as much media as possible, especially the ones with a real focus on your customer demographic. Spend up to 30 minutes each day scanning the news in order to stay on top of what the latest news trends are and how they relate to your industry or geographic focus.

If make a new cold-pressed coffee protein shake launching in Whole Foods and Trader Joes, then you may want to focus attention on grocer trade publications to spread the word about your new product among food distributors and buyers. You can also target food, fitness & lifestyle magazines interested in sharing new product news with their readers. Even general business websites like Inc. and Wall Street Journal can help spread your brand awareness among a well-heeled demographic, not to mention spreading news about your hot startup to investors seeking the next big product hit to get behind.

Organized Search: Be sure to organize your search based on criteria like national vs. local, business vs. trade, high potential vs. long shot. Use a spreadsheet to capture media information organized by media outlet name, journalist or editor name, email (if available), phone (if available) and Twitter profile name (if available). You should include a column entitled “Notes” or “Status” to document the results of your latest pitching efforts.

I also like to organize my media list by 1s, 2s and 3s, which refer to the importance of the media outlets/journalists to achieving my media outreach goals. While it may be a wonderful thing to be picked up by that famous Wall Street Journal reporter, it also may be an extremely remote possibility and therefore would rate a 2 or 3 on the scale. You win the media game by getting the easier publicity often and making calculated investments of time and resources to hit the occasional home run in a national media outlet like the WSJ.

Quality over Quantity: Having hundreds of media to pitch your latest news to may seem like a good thing but if it dilutes your efforts to the point you can’t really do an effective job then it will end up as a waste of time. I see a lot of PR agencies take the quantity over quality approach, also known as the “spray-and-pray approach.” What invariably happens is that journalists receive a very canned, impersonal pitch that ends up in the trash. The more targeted your media outreach, the better your chances of developing meaningful relationships with journalists and winning valuable publicity. To be sure, researching local media research is a more straightforward proposition but don’t let that deceive you. A little extra online research could yield quite a few more hyper-local opportunities to get your business potent coverage with niche audiences. Think Mommy blogs, fashion blogs, daily cultural blogs, lifestyle ezines – all with a local spin.

Stay Current: A key to a good media list is to keep it up to date. Journalists come and go, and media outlets start and fail all the time. To optimize your chances of getting news coverage, it’s always good to keep your media list as current as possible. Plus, your business changes over time – new product launches, new business divisions, new office openings, etc. As your company grows, so should your media list.

Purchased Media Lists: Another option is to purchase a media list, which can be a good, if costly, way to get a lot of media contacts in one fell swoop. The problem is that, despite what most media list sellers tell you, the media contacts are never as fresh as they could be. So be prepared to spend some time researching the media contacts online to make sure they are still around and still covering the same news beat. You can subscribe to an premium media database like Vocus, Cision or Meltwater, but unless you want to spend up to $5,000 annually it may be better to look for a cheaper alternative. Expensive media databases tend to be the domain of larger PR agencies and corporations with a communications team and plenty of money in the PR budget. They come with tons of media contact information, and especially helpful is the contact information for hard-to-reach media like blogs and national reporters at the gnat’s-eye level of detail. They also provide dynamic searching capability ability by keywords and geography like DMAs (Designated Market Area – think Los Angeles or Charlotte metro area) or entire states; the challenge, as always, is to make sure you focus your search on media most likely to be interested in your news.

HARO: Help a Reporter Out is a service (free or paid) offered by Vocus that allows you to receive 2-3 email blasts full of interview requests from bloggers and some journalists from reputable media outlets like Fast Company and Inc. magazine. It’s a great way to hear about quote requests from a pretty wide variety of media – although it seems the majority are from 2nd tier blogs and the rather dubious titled “anonymous” writers. Still, you may find the occasional golden opportunity to pitch a quality reporter and, even if you don’t get selected for a quote, you may end up getting the reporter’s email to add to your media list for subsequent PR campaigns.

I’m not suggesting you do ALL of the above when researching media outlets and reporters for your next PR campaign. I would, however, recommend a little Internet research, as that will yield names of reporters who have actually covered your area of interest.

Got any suggestions or experiences you want to share? Please tweet them to us at @PRoverCoffee or post them to our PR over Coffee Facebook page.

About Dave Manzer:  Dave Manzer founded an Austin tech PR and marketing agency for startups and emerging-growth businesses in 2009. Dave Manzer specializes in highly integrated PR & marketing strategies that help companies in technology, healthcare and professional services reach their goals in brand awareness and revenue growth. To contact Dave directly about the PR over Coffee blog, please email him at dave(@)davemanzer.com.

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