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Traditional media outlets have been part of an incredible shrinking act the last several years as Generation X has led the way in opting to use only free Web-based sources. Despite that, the sheer number of influential writers whom marketers and PR pros are targeting has grown tremendously.

Today, getting your story in front of an influential writer can mean getting it to a traditional journalist at an established publication, an independent blogger, or a peer-to-peer reviewer.

And getting in touch with those key influencers is no easy task. Any writer who is important to you is also important to hundreds of other marketers, and she is inundated with an avalanche of emails, pitches, press releases, and tweets every day.

Sure, as that avalanche roars down the PR mountain, the writer could randomly open your email and pursue your story. But like anything else in the business-to-business realm, leaving things to chance is not the best strategy for a company looking to amplify its presence among prospects.

Though no method is guaranteed to get your story in front of an influential writer, you can successfully navigate those treacherous PR slopes and reach the influencers who matter most. Here are five proven ways to do so.

1. Familiarity Breeds Success

The simplest way to break through the clutter is to take an interest in the writers who are most important to your company. You can do that by following their blogs in your RSS feed, following them on Twitter, becoming a Facebook fan, and—most important—actually reading what they write.

Taking a more personable approach is also a plus. That may mean contacting influencers via telephone instead of email or arranging a meeting in person if the writer is willing. In other words, engage with them; become a real person to them instead of just a name on a random email.

Find out what the writers' hobbies or interests are outside of their beat, and match them to yours. Stories have been placed with top-tier journalists simply because the writer and the person pitching the story shared similar interests. The story still had to be relevant to the writer's audience, of course, but a personal connection can break through the clutter.

Knowing what the writers cover and which audiences they target will prevent you from pitching stories that don't interest them. Mention something the writer has written recently and how it relates to the story you're pitching, and explain how her audience will benefit from the piece.

More important, know the writer's schedule and determine the best time and way to contact her. Nothing puts you further away from a writer's ear than calling her when she's on deadline.

2. Conversation Is King

Up until a few years ago, writers would make their pronouncements from Mt. Olympus, and then disseminate them to the masses. Today, feedback and comments on articles are precious.

Writers, especially bloggers, appreciate when interview subjects or company spokespeople comment on their stories. It shows you are listening to and engaging in what they have to say. If you regularly follow writers and comment on their stories and posts, you'll establish a rapport that will serve you well.

If you read an article that interests you, hit the "Like" button, trackback via your company blog, or share it on a social networking platform. Tweet a link to the article, or retweet something the writer posts. Don't just do that with stories you're involved in; do it with those you have a less direct connection to.

3. The Always-on Deadline

A lot of today's writers don't plan ahead. They're constantly working on tight deadlines, especially in the current 24/7 news cycle, so their primary interest is the story that's due next. That means you may get a request for an interview or more information that needs to be fulfilled now.

Acting quickly means you'll have a better chance of making it into that story since it's often "first come, first served" for last-minute sources. Don't be surprised if that last-minute request comes from something you pitched months ago. Instead, be glad that the writer thought enough of it to save it all this time.

On the other hand, if you can't get the person, statistic, photo, or any other material that the writer needs, be honest about it. Let the writer know as soon as possible so her search for sources can continue.

4. But Wait, There's More!

Everyone offers experts to be interviewed as part of a story. But even traditional media outlets are striving to provide more of an online presence for their stories. So when the interview is finished, offer to provide photos, audio/video, or other graphics (e.g., charts, diagrams). If a YouTube video helps illustrate the story, point the influencer to that video.

The less work the writer has to do to find viral elements to accompany the story, the better. And you'll be higher on her list when the next story rolls around.

5. You Need a Scorecard to Know the Players

The media's coverage focus is a constantly shifting landscape due to job changes and media consolidation. Though it is difficult to keep up with the ever-changing landscape and revolving influencers, it is worthwhile. Knowing who and where your key contacts are is essential to making your marketing and media-relations program work.

Try signing up for a regularly updated data service. Tracking writers in a database designed for media relations, which includes their personal preferences and hobbies, will simplify the process over using a spreadsheet. It'll also make the information easier to share with others in your organization.

Remember, an influential writer today could be your next-door neighbor who runs a widely read blog in her downtime after her regular 9-to-5 job. Successfully reaching influencers is a matter of using common sense and treating writers like the people they are rather than anonymous targets to be spammed.

To better navigate today's PR mountains, it's critical that you take a real interest in the writers who are important to you, and find ways to engage them. Following the five points in this article can help your message stand out from the avalanche.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dan Green is national media relations manager at Tech Image, a public relations firm that helps technology companies of all sizes accelerate sales with highly refined messaging, content development, and influencer-outreach programs. Reach him via dan.green@techimage.com.