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How to Target Your Public Relations Toward the Press

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MarketingProfs.com went to the Buzz 2000 conference in San Francisco this week to hear about the promised "new rules for PR", "cost effective PR tactics", and about how to create a buzz using Public Relations. Those things weren't delivered, but we did pick up a lot of valuable insights about what you should think about when doing PR when the press is your target audience.

We broken this down into 4 sections based on the topics discussed.

WHAT THE JOURNALISTS SAID

The following comments are based on a set of journalists. These included: Amy Bernstein (Editor, The Industry Standard), Steven Levy (Senior Editor, Newsweek), John Markoff (Senior Writer, New York Times), Scott Rosenberg (Editor, Salon.com).

After reading these comments, take a look at the some of the pitches received by Allen Weiss (who writes for Upside.com), and see if they meet these stringent requirements.

  • Don't pretend familiarity if you don't have it - don't send us email that sounds like you know us when you in fact don't
  • If we're going to talk to a PR agency, we want to talk to supervisors and upper managers of PR, but we usually talk with junior account managers.
  • You have to realize that we make decisions based on what our readers want to see, or what we like to write about - so before sending us email about your company, make sure you really understand what we write!!!
  • Remember that journalists tend to be skeptical
  • What we look for in a pitch
    • Conflicts, obstacles, drama, trends (but don't be too abstract)
    • Put the company within a broader trend story, to us the Story is everything
    • Use statistics and graphs if possible
  • We think that PR agencies should manage their client's expectations about getting stories in the news - clients must understand that it is often difficult to get mentioned in the top news outlets
  • Recommendation to Agencies: Don't start at the top publications - build "circles of interest" or circles outward - start with highly targeted publications before going to the broad interest ones


WHAT THE PR AGENCIES SAID - THE INTERNET IS REALLY ABOUT MORE TOOLS, NOT NEW RULES

These points are based on the comments of several agencies at the conference.

  • We agree with the journalists that you should know your audience - know whether you're pitching to a columnist, a reporter, or editor
    • Reporters typically want straight news
    • Columnists are pressed to come up with ideas - so "pitch the trend" or the "big story", not just your client's company
    • Editors - you have to do analysis of what they run and don't run (go far beyond the mission statement of the news outlet) - senior editors respond to that homework!
  • You really need to internalize the skepticism of writers - remember you can't manipulate the press
  • Spend more time with your client's CEO (to educate them about the limits and abilities of PR). Teach them about media elements to use and when, how to get through to technical editors, etc.
  • Get information from customers, sales, skeptics and others and feed to the PR agency
  • Look at conferences, industry tracks that focus on the trend and sponsor that track

WHAT THEY SAID ABOUT CHOOSING A PR AGENCY

  • You don't need PR agency when your company is targeting a vertical audience - in those situations it's easier to meet editors in specialized magazines.
  • Always look for agencies with senior experienced people
  • Ask if they will work on your account (make sure they're not jaded or cynical)
  • Make sure you feel comfortable with them
  • Always ask who does the talking with reporters (remember the comments of the journalists above)
  • Make sure you really understand how they charge (for example, if on retainer, do they provide a service level agreement? Will they fully explain excess charges?)

WHAT THEY SAID ABOUT ASSESSING PR PERFORMANCE

Everyone discussed the touchy issue of how to assess the performance of PR. Most reflected the view that PR is a soft art and not spreadsheet-oriented. Nonetheless, many spoke about the typical measure of PR performance with included such things as whether or not you garnered an above the fold article in the WSJ, a Business Week cover, etc.

Some talked about broader measures, including a clear addition to revenues or valuations. Of course, clicks were mentioned as well.

Our sense was that consensus fell around measures of PR performance that were more functionally based. These included the following:

  • Volume of coverage vs. % volume on message (one problem with this, however, is that columnists don't usually buy the message)
  • "Quality"of relationship with the press
  • Stated suite of deliverables (actionable goals), with evidence
  • Mentions in search engines (which many regarded as the "new press")

7/11/2000

OUR TAKEAWAY

PR in the Internet age is really no different than before. As the agencies said, except for rare exceptions, PR is about new tools (the Internet), but not new rules.

Pay careful attention to the comments of the journalists. When dealing with the press, it's easy to get caught up in your company and forget that journalists have a different job. The more you understand their job, the better you will be as a PR person. But this is no different than any basic ideas in marketing - understand your customer!


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Allen Weiss is the founder and publisher of MarketingProfs.com. He can be reached at amw@marketingprofs.com.

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