If we were to look at media relations as if it were an exact science, the theory of a successful media pitch consists of three components:
- a strong, newsworthy story
- one or more targeted media contacts that are interested in your story
- a relevant and thoughtful pitch
In the real world, there are tons of other variables that might mess with this trifecta; people are busy, they don’t recognise your brand, their inbox is overflowing, or your contact might just have a bad day. Then again, media relations isn’t an exact science, so I’m going to leave those factors out of this story for now.
We have written quite a few articles on writing and building a good story, and how to pitch to media contacts (find them in the sidebar on the right). Today, we’ll focus on the second component: building a network of contacts that cover your industry, your market, or the themes that you write about. It’s the most complete and probably most efficient way, without spending a fortune, and only costing you 15 minutes of your morning ritual.
Now there are multiple ways to find media contacts. Let’s just start off with a question we get all the time at pr.co:
Can’t I just buy a list or database with contacts?
Yes, you could do that. It might even be a very fast and efficient way to start building a network of contacts if you have the budget. However, what everyone should realise is that buying a database of contacts is not a shortcut to coverage. It gives you a list of journalists, often with additional information about that journalist (which isn’t necessarily up-to-date).
In a recent interview with a few local PR professionals, we learned that even though there are vast differences in how PR people pitch, everyone we spoke to agreed on the following: contacts need to be relevant, and building a relationship helps.
Take one of our clients, Komoot, who have observed much higher engagement rates from the journalists and media contacts that they have most recently met up with at their events.
Another PR professional describes that each of the journalists on their A-list (so the list of outlets they really want to get featured in) are thoroughly researched, thoughtfully pitched and are regularly contacted for a cup of coffee to discuss the industry.
What I’m trying to say is that a media database is just a list of names and email addresses. For that list to become more than that, you need to understand the people behind the email addresses. There are no shortcuts for that; if you want to craft a relevant pitch, you need to find out what’s relevant to that contact. And while your purchased databases might give a bit of background for each journalist, our clients report that this data is often out of date. Journalists change interests, take on new gigs, and move to different outlets; it’s your job as a PR professional to find that all out.
So, building a network of contacts consists of:
- Monitoring your industry
- Finding relevant contacts
- Finding their contact details
- Building a relationship, if the contact if absolutely spot on
- Researching contacts to pitch in a relevant manner
- Maintaining your contact list
If you have money to spend (prices of media databases range from €200,- to €2000,- per month), a media database helps you speed up step 2 and 3. Bet there are ways to build your own, most likely more complete list of media contacts, without spending any money at all. Just a few minutes of your day.
How to build your own list of journalists and media contacts
In order to find media contacts that might be interested in your company’s stories, you need to get a good grasp on the media landscape in your industry.
Monitor: build a feed with your favourite outlets and keywords
There are very sophisticated ways to monitor your industry, and monitoring solutions are getting better and better. However, there are more affordable (or even free) alternatives available that allow you to get a good overview of what your favourite outlets are publishing and what’s being published in your industry.
With Feedly, you can build a feed with your favourite outlets, and mentions of keywords, companies, or products that are relevant to you. By setting this up correctly, you’ll have a digestible overview of everything that’s happening in your industry - without having to switch between multiple websites and tools. Feedly is free if you’re monitoring up to 100 sources, in 3 feeds, and offers very affordable plans for larger feeds and additional functionalities (a Slack integration, for instance.)
Start your day by going through this feed. Every time you find an article that is in line with the themes and topics your company writes about, you’ve found a new potential media contact. Just open the article, check who wrote the article and add that person to your CRM with their name, outlet and relevant articles. If you don’t have a CRM, an Excel sheet is sufficient to get started. Once you’re ready to professionalise things, check out our CRM for PR teams.
Research: how to find contact details for press contacts
Okay, so you just found a few new interesting contacts on your feed. Next step is to find a way to contact this person. Depending on the way you’d like to get in contact, you’ll look for either their social media accounts, their email address, or both. I don’t think I have to tell you how to find someone’s Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or LinkedIn account, so we’ll skip that. How do you find someone’s email address, though? Here are a few ways to do that:
Google: This might sound a little self-evident, but very often you can simply google an email address. I just googled “email address + ‘my name;”, and to my surprise found my own email address. I used to run sales at pr.co, so I didn’t mind that people would find my email address. With journalists that’s typically the same: often their contact details are publicly available on the newspaper website, or on other websites. Search queries you could use for Barry White from the Guardian are “email address Barry White’”, “email address Barry White Guardian”, etc. If you can’t find the email address for Barry White, but you do find one for Barry’s colleague at the Guardian, you can use the email format to guess Barry’s email address. So, if the colleague’s email is Josephine.firstname.lastname@example.org, Barry’s email address probably follows the same format, so: email@example.comProspecting tools: There are quite a few good tools out there that will help you find someone’s email address. I like to use hunter.io - you fill in the company and the person’s name, and hunter.io will find you their verified email address or estimates the email address based on other emails they find from the same company. Other very similar tools I’ve tried out are snov.io or Voila Norbert. Most of these tools are free up to a limited amount of searches and some of them even have email verifying tools, so you can test if the email works before you send a pitch to a broken email address.
Social media: As I said, journalists often want to connect with their industry, so they leave their email address on their social bios. Check out someone’s Twitter or LinkedIn — you’d be surprised how often you’ll find a correct email address there.
Can’t find the email address you’re looking for? Try to reach out to the journalist on social media. The general email address for press releases every newspaper and publisher has should be your very last resort. Most newspapers and publishers get hundreds of irrelevant pitches and press releases a day at those email addresses, so even if your story’s good, there’s an enormous chance that they won’t notice your email.
Organise your contacts and build a profile
Save your newfound contacts — including their contact details — in a nicely organised CRM or Excel sheet. Then, google their name, find all their recent articles, and build a profile. Do this by adding notes to these contacts with the recent articles and categorise them clearly based on their interests. Segmentation is where an Excel or Google sheet typically gets a bit messy when you hit its limits. However, it’s a good place to start before choosing the right CRM system.
Connect: every connection starts with an introduction
Media databases and newswires have sold us the idea that there is a shortcut to generating media exposure. Buy a list, or purchase a distribution, and get covered in the best media outlets in the world.
Ironically, many PR people seem to have forgotten about the ‘relations’ in media relations.
With the above strategy you might end up with a lot of potential media contacts. But you won’t need to connect with or build a relationship with every single one of them. It won’t hurt, but we’re all busy people and we need to balance our time and output.
An efficient strategy to connect with your media contacts is building an A-list and a B-list. Your A-list consists of spot-on contacts, the exact right journalists at the exact right publications or outlets that write about your exact industry. It shouldn’t be a very long list, and they’re usually market-specific; your colleague covering another market should have a similar list for her or his market.
The A-list are people that you should be checking in with every now and then. A few ways to connect:
Introduce yourself: introduce yourself and your company and explain how your product/ vision/mission/company might be in line with what they’re writing about. Don’t get all salesy; landing a publication is not the goal of this email. Baby steps.
Use Feedly to monitor what your A-list contacts are writing about, engage with their articles, and add the most interesting articles to your CRM so that you can use them in your pitch at a later stage.
Have a cup of coffee. Introduce yourself, your company, and explain why their audience might find your company or its products interesting. If your contact agrees and lives close - have a cup of coffee to get acquainted.
Organise (media events). If you’d like one of your contacts to cover your product or service, you need to help them understand your product and interact with it as it’s meant to. Simply sending them a product for a review might not have the effect you hope for - most products get better as soon as they’re better understood. By organising media events, you get a chance to guide the way media contacts experience your product. And that’s powerful. The photo below shows a media event our client Shimano organised to have its media contacts experience their latest product.
Connect with your A-list contacts on social media. This allows you to engage with their posts by commenting on them and also increases the chance of your coverage ending up in their feed. As a result, your organisation won’t be a company they’ve never heard of, but one that rings a bell.
Connecting with your B-list
For your B-list it’s not crucial to set up separate feeds for each journalist, just one feed will suffice. There’s a big chance that your B list will also include news outside of your industry, but Feedly can help you cut through the noise. They recently launched ‘Leo Skills’, an AI-powered functionality that helps you deduplicate news, and shows articles based on priority. By filling in the right topics in your feed, and liking articles if they’re interesting (and disliking them if they aren’t), Feedly will learn which articles to prioritise, and let artificial intelligence cut through the noise. You can interact with, re-share, and add articles that seem like a fit to your newsletter (and let the journalist know), or send them a quick DM.
That’s it for now. Good luck with building a network of media contacts and remember: they are your superpower. A strong network is invaluable for any PR professional; it won’t just help you get more coverage, but might even help you land your next job.