Digital PR Strategy 101: Building Media Lists and Pitching Stories

by Sarah Hayes on April 04, 2017

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Is traditional PR dead? For decades, public relations success was measured by your ability to pitch a reporter and secure earned media coverage on the TV, radio or in newspapers and magazines. Today, we read most of our news online through news websites, apps, and our social media feeds. Social media and industry blogs have created a new platform for directly reaching customers, in many cases circumventing the need to “pitch” a reporter. But don’t write off the benefits of working reporters just yet!

There’s still tremendous value in building relationships with reporters, including those who write for reputable industry publications. Small businesses may also benefit from relationships with reporters who can secure favorable coverage in local news publications. Reporters provide a second avenue for generating publicity and getting your message out. In a world drowning in content, anyone can publish a blog online. As every digital marketing director knows all too well, the trick is getting this content to stand out and engage the right audience.

Reporters and news outlets manage these distribution and engagement channels for you. Industry publications have a built-in audience of loyal readers, not to mention the backing of larger media corporations that work to keep this audience engaged. Securing a quote in an industry trends story, for example, could get your name in front of thousands of prospects– without the need for your digital strategy team to spend hours managing the nitty-gritty distribution and engagement details.

Sounds pretty great, right? Of course, you’ll still need to do the legwork to secure that quotation or company mention in the first place. And that brings us full-circle back to the “traditional” PR tactics like media list building and reporter pitching. For a small business on a budget, hiring a PR agency may not make financial sense. Good news: you can handle much of your own PR internally by creating a media list and building relationships with reporters.

Digital PR Strategy 101: Tactics 

1. Create your media list.

Creating a media target list is the first step for successful pitching. Why? Blindly pitching a random list of reporters is time-consuming and ineffective– you don’t know who covers what beat or what information they need. Take advantage of free services like Google Alerts to monitor local media outlets, reporters and coverage trends. Sign up for HARO (Help a Reporter Out) and Pitchrate.com to find out which reporters regularly write about your industry and offer your expertise for upcoming stories.

Ready to take your PR efforts to the next level? Major companies and PR agencies rely on media list database subscriptions to build their media lists, target reporters and track PR analytics and press mentions. Unfortunately, access to these databases can be downright unaffordable for many small businesses. Rather than purchasing a full subscription, test the waters first with a free trial or demo offer:

  • Cision, which boasts a database of more than 1.6 million contacts and outlets and includes access to the premium edition of HARO and PRWeb.
  • Meltwater, a media intelligence company that lets you target influencers and contact them on their preferred channel

2. Build relationships with reporters.

Now that you’ve created a target press list, it’s time to start building relationships with these reporters. Twitter is still ground zero for initiating reporter relationships and monitoring trending topics relevant to your industry. Journalists use the microblogging platform to identify story ideas and new sources.

  •  Craft the perfect bio. If you want to be a Twitter expert, professional rules of engagement apply. Your Twitter handle needs to be an identifiable derivative of your name and may include your organization or relate to your profession. Choose a clearly identifiable and high-resolution image for your avatar: no “Twitter egg” avatars! Include your job title, key hashtags for major issues, and don’t be afraid to call yourself an “expert” or “authority” on a specific topic.
  • Follow the right reporters. Thanks to your media list building, you should already have a pretty clear idea of which reporters to follow for your industry. Still, it’s a good idea to take the relationship slow and interact with their tweets for a few weeks before you reach out. Read what the journalist is tweeting, what they cover, and check their preferred contact method. (Many journalists like to interact on Twitter, but prefer email or a DM for a more formal pitch.) Nothing annoys a reporter more than a misdirected pitch!
  • Share their stories. A recent MuckRack survey found 88 percent of reporters track who shares their stories across social media and how often these stories are shared. Mentioning this journalist in social media posts and retweeting their story will help strengthen the relationship, getting you in the door for future contributor opportunities as an “industry expert”.

The Big Picture Digital PR Strategy

Getting your name mentioned in a few industry articles may not generate a flood of qualified leads overnight the way a white paper might. Unlike inbound marketing, "traditional" PR coverage is often a slower burn. However, these tactics are crucial to establishing your business as an industry leader– not to mention building your personal reputation as the industry's go-to for authoritative, on-the-record comments.

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Sarah Hayes

Project Manager at 21 Handshake, a strategic marketing company, driven to grow relationship-driven businesses. A self described life long learner that thrives on detail, I love bringing these skills to the table to help others succeed.

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