By Linda Forrest
Late last year, PRNewswire gave a presentation at PubCon that shared its data about pitching in the new media world, what modes journalists – and PR practitioners – were using in 2010 and in what numbers. The results were as follows:
84 percent of journalists like to get pitched via email. In addition to email, these journalists also use Facebook (79 percent), LinkedIn (64 percent), and Twitter (58 percent) to search out potential stories.
It should be noted that the numbers for each of the social media platforms had gone up since the previous year, Facebook by more than 20 percentage points, LinkedIn by a more modest 13 percentage points and Twitter by more than 35 percentage points.
The survey polled 1,300 U.S. journalists working for newspapers, magazines, online news sites, TV, radio, wire services, and blogs. For the first time this year, the survey also polled 1,385 U.S. PR practitioners to get their take on how the shift in the media landscape is affecting their jobs and interaction with journalists.
Full disclosure: I was one of the 285 Canadian PR practitioners who completed the survey. A section of the report is devoted to Canadian results, which garnered this interesting, favourable insight:
Anton Koschany, executive producer at W5 CTV, says this heightened workload has changed the way journalists interact with PR pros, adding he’s seen more of an exchange between the two sides than in years past. According to the survey, 11 per cent of Canadian journalists say they proactively reach out to PR professionals more now, while 39 per cent of PR professionals report more proactive inquiries from journalists.
“Because there are so many elements to journalism now, someone in PR is a source that can provide contacts and information, especially photographs, in a timely manner,” he explains. “That’s an attractive quality.”
The white paper that outlines the results of the entire survey can be downloaded on the PRNewswire site.
Whether the PRWeek survey questioned B2B media as well as B2C media is an unknown and I’d argue, as a B2B media specialist, that there may be differences in pitching preferences and prevalence of platforms depending on which one we’re looking at. For example, while Facebook is a well-established B2C channel for pitching, in my experience it’s less so for B2B. As Cate Corcoran of Women’s Wear Daily responded to the survey, “There’s more of a blurring between the professional and personal with social media,” and I’d argue it’s easier to make that leap with B2C than B2B.
As a PR practitioner with more than a decade of experience under my belt, I can recall (only just!) when media relations consisted of mailing out press kits by post, faxing out press releases and calling to follow up. While the platforms may have changed over the years, best practices persist: provide the right targets with the right information in the right format.
Here are my experiences pitching on these pitching platforms:
The bulk of my pitching is done by email. It’s the standard communications method for media – everyone has an email address – and it’s an efficient way to distribute information. Media kits, images, videos, links and whatever else I want to send are all easily disseminated by email. Embedded links in the pitch itself limit the amount of data that must be included in the body. Best to keep it short, relevant and on topic, but provide everything required.
I use Facebook strictly in my personal life rather than my professional life, and I’m not sold on its use as a pitching platform for the B2B technology companies for which we do media relations. That that doesn’t mean that we don’t use the platform in a plethora of other ways for our clients as part of their social media strategies. Best practices prevail: Are our clients’ prospects, partners, customers and other business influencers on Facebook? If yes, then it’s an important channel on which they can engage. If not, then we don’t need to be there just because the channel exists. Are our media targets on Facebook? In some cases, yes, but we’re able to reach them — and get results — through other channels, so that’s what we do.
I’ve used LinkedIn only occasionally as a pitching medium, but when I have, it’s worked. More often, when I’ve engaged with a reporter or editor through other methods, as a result of our connecting, either they or I send an invite to the other to connect on LinkedIn. In my experience, though, communication on this channel is limited; even if we’re connected on LinkedIn, we still stick predominantly to email to communicate. Where LinkedIn really shines is when we’re updating our database; if people keep their profiles up to date, then any changes to their title, outlet affiliation and so on are all captured in LinkedIn updates that are regularly sent by the platform. Also, when searching for outlets and individuals to include on our media lists, we can see if someone has moved on to a different position and, if we’re having trouble contacting them via the contact information we have on record, contact them through LinkedIn to get up to date information.
I recently celebrated my 1,000th day on Twitter. (Surely, Hallmark makes a card for such an occasion?) My use of this platform has steadily increased over time, but if memory serves, it was not too long — maybe six months? — after I first signed up for Twitter that I used it to pitch a journalist. Since then, it’s become a standard tool in my pitching toolbox. Francis wrote last May about the ways which we used the platform for our clients, all of which are still true.
I’ve had some interesting encounters with reporters using this medium, especially at the beginning. When pitched using this channel, some reporters recoiled, responding that they don’t accept pitches on Twitter, and subsequently made their Tweets protected just to drive the point home.
Others have responded to me on this channel when they’ve ignored all other attempts at contact – email, phone, LinkedIn, etc.
I’ve had some feedback from other reporters, having checked out my Twitterstream to see that they’re not the only reporters I’ve reached out to, that not to bother pitching them on Twitter unless I’m pitching them an exclusive via Twitter. This says more about their pitching preference in terms of wanting to cover news that their competitors don’t yet have than the pitching medium. However, had they not been privy to the fact that my pitch to them wasn’t an exclusive — something they learned only by reviewing my other Tweets — they might have been more likely to bite. (By the way, an exclusive almost never has appeal to us because we believe it limits the coverage potential for the story.)
By following the important media for my clients, I am alerted in real time when they’re looking for sources on articles and can respond quickly offering up my clients’ participation.
As a naturally pleonastic writer, getting my pitch down to 140 characters is a good exercise for me as a writer and a marketer, so I welcome the challenge of pitching on Twitter.
A note on pitching via social media networks: I was shocked to find out that of the close to 1,400 PR practitioners questioned, only 43 percent said that they had ever pitched a journalist via a social network. These channels have penetrated every aspect of our personal and professional communications, so that statistic is not only surprising but disheartening as I fear it indicates that a large number of practitioners are not changing adequately with the times and thus, are doing their clients a disservice. Companies are clearly adopting and using social media, according to the results of Burson-Marsteller’s Second Annual Global Social Media Check-up, released this week, which examines the global Fortune 100 companies’ use of social media.
That said, there’s a lot of hubbub about new media, but let’s not forget about the tried and true: the telephone. It still works. It can be harder to track down appropriate phone numbers and some media absolutely forbid telephone contact, but more often than not, it’s the best way to have a fulsome discussion of the media’s interest, what our clients have to offer and how we can knit the two together. If they’ll take our call, we can accomplish what needs to be accomplished most efficiently.
I can’t think of the last time I sent a fax for pitching purposes, but it was probably in the 1990s.
At the end of the day, the truth is we use whatever channels get the job done. We use email, phone, and various social media platforms, being persistent without being pesky, to track down and engage with our media targets on our clients’ behalf. Marshall McLuhan might disagree, but the medium by which we engage is less important than the message we’re sending and how determined we are to get through to the appropriate targets.
Image: RT 154 Euro