Earlier this week, I traveled to San Francisco to attend the CEA Industry Forum. Between the abundant amount of data (note: CEA is awesome at research) and the excellent networking events (note: members of CEA know how to party, err…“network”), I had the opportunity to attend a break-out session entitled “Secrets to Good Press”. The sessions featured an all-star panel of CE press; including Julie Jacobson, vice president of EH Publishing and editor-at-large of CE Pro; Suzanne Kantra, founder and editor-in-chief of Techlicious.com; Rafe Needleman, editor-at-large of CNET; and Marcus Chan, business and technology editor at the San Francisco Chronicle.
(Before I share insight from the session, I would like to point out that I was mildly shocked at the low turnout for the session. Given the impact that press, both good and bad, has on the CE industry, I would have assumed the room would have been packed, yet that was hardly the case.)
The panelist spoke on a range of topics including how social media effects their respective outlets, how they handle comments and posts on their websites and how they prefer to receive pitches from PR and marketing representatives, however the session could be summarized in four words: Know Who You’re Pitching.
While each panelist spoke on their personal preferences and experiences in dealing with companies looking for press, the one point each always came back to was how important it was to take the time to research what the members of the media you’re pitching actually cover.
Far too often, PR professionals pitch stories, products, announcements, etc. to the first name they see in the masthead or to a point of contact they find in some out-dated database. For example, Rafe Needleman shared a story of a pitch he received recently that suggested that the product being pitched would be great for his outlet. The problem was that Needleman hadn’t worked at that outlet since 1996. As a PR professional, I was embarrassed for my profession once I realized this probably happens frequently.
In any PR or marketing strategy, it’s absolutely crucial to understand your audience. Whether you’re sharing a new product announcement with the editor of the largest gadget blog, working to get coverage in your local paper of an upcoming event you may be hosting, or speaking with a customer, take the time to know them. If you’re unfamiliar with a media outlet, Marcus Chan suggested spending a few hours/days/weeks monitoring what they cover and how they cover it. This seems like common sense, but after hearing the panelist speak for just under an hour, it’s obvious folks aren’t taking the time to do it.
Once the panelist opened up the floor for questions, the “yes, that’s my company, too” question came. A gentleman from the audience explained that his company, a small start-up, has been sending out numerous press releases but just can’t seem to get any coverage. They really want to get press and wanted to know if they should consider hiring an outside PR/marketing company or if they could be just as successful keeping it in-house.
Needleman quickly answered that it’s not all about sending out a press release. He didn’t declare the press release “dead”, and in fact, each of the panelists explained that press releases do still have relevancy… they just have to be relevant. He again referred back to taking the time to understand who to pitch and how to pitch them to be successful. He also made it a point to explain how PR agencies’ roles aren’t simply sending out a press release. He explained that for companies, and especially small companies or start-up, utilizing a PR/marketing agency as a consultant and benefiting from their expertise is extremely valuable. As he put it, “you can hire a lawyer, but never have need to go to court.”
Great press can make a company and no press can break a company. While there are never any guarantees you’ll get the coverage you want or think you deserve, you can do all the right things—mainly research and thought-out pitches—to ensure your story is at least being heard by the press.
Scott Moody is the Director of Public Relations at Marketing Matters.