One of the key, but often neglected, aspects of public relations is research. Maybe it’s because research feels like homework: bent over a computer, scanning spreadsheets and databases, or going to Google and clicking on the 12th page of results and then the 13th. But the lack of research is one of the main reasons journalists hate PR executives (aka publicists), so if you take this important step for your startup’s outreach, you’ll have put yourself strides ahead of many quote-unquote professionals.
The reason research is so important is that it will let you know that you’re contacting the right person for your story. Imagine you’re starving and in the mood for a hot, gooey slice of pizza: how do you think you’d react if you were instead served a salad? Or a tall glass of sweet tea? A hammer? Take that aggravation, multiply it by hundreds, and that’s what reporters deal with every day. City reporters get pitched stories about new restaurants. Restaurant critics are asked to write about clothing lines. And fashion editors are contacted regarding playground fundraisers. All because someone didn’t bother to find out what the reporters actually write about.
And each ignorant pitch just makes it harder for the next person to try and get that reporter’s attention, not to mention running the risk of permanently turning that writer hostile to you and your company.
So how do you do research? Most PR pros turn to a subscription database called Cision, which lists just about every traditional media outlet in the world (i.e., print, TV and radio), along with a good number of online publications and blogs. Anyone can buy a subscription, but they start in the thousands, so it doesn’t make a lot of sense unless your startup is actually a PR agency. Don’t feel dismayed because there are plenty of ways to research that will only cost you time, not money.
Nearly every traditional outlet has a Web presence these days. Scroll to the bottom of any page, and you’ll find a link to an About, Contact Us or similarly named page. That’s where you’ll find the names, job titles and (hopefully) email addresses of the staff. But don’t stop there! Try to discern which people do what jobs. If you’re not sure, use Google to find job descriptions. For instance, a managing editor rarely writes or even assigns stories and a publisher, despite being “the boss,” almost never has a say in content. Even after you’ve narrowed your choices down to just reporters, keep digging. If you’ve developed the next Yelp, you want to reach the technology or small business reporter, NOT the food editor. And, finally, take a look at what the reporter has produced. A woman who writes a weekly column about small business might turn out to only be interested in tips and advice, not new small businesses.
You’ll want to do the same thing for each and every outlet you come across, whether they be local, national or international. If the outlet is a one-person blog, look at some blog posts first. If it’s a radio show, try to find old episodes online.
And if you’re ever not sure, call or email to find out. Reporters always appreciate a short email asking if they’re the right person for such-and-such story. Often, if they aren’t, they’ll direct you to the correct person.