A few years ago, I launched a website called FindHow, and we gave it a full-court press from a PR standpoint. In this series of articles, I’m running through all the best practices we leveraged.
In the first part of Public Relations For SEO: The Complete Guide, we talked about how to convince journalists that your topic is newsworthy by properly “positioning” your product or service, and then delved into the basics of writing a press release. Part 2 continues with strategies for targeting journalists and tips for scheduling your announcement.
Pick A Strategy To Target Journalists
You can think of the press as being a pyramid, with the most influential publications at the top and the numbers of publications increasing (with declining influence) as you move down the pyramid. Below is the pyramid we constructed for FindHow’s launch planning; if you map out one for yourself, it might look different and include things like particular industry trade publications or influential newsletters:
There is a sort of implied “pecking order:” if the Wall Street Journal sees that Wired Magazine has already covered something well, they might be less likely to cover it; however, if Wired sees something in the WSJ, rest assured, they are very likely to cover it.
However, if the majority in a lower tier are covering something, that can be used to lever up interest by media outlets in higher levels. Some like the “bottom-up” approach, which can work well if you have plenty of resources and are in it for the long haul.
It’s easy to also see why a top-down approach can be effective – people, even journalists, are often easily swayed by others, and opinions and trends are often validated by the top. So, if the Wall Street Journal carries an article on a topic, it’s much easier for you to get coverage lower in the pyramid, because you can use the example to gain credibility with journalists, and also because, frankly, journalists read the media as well — and busy journalists, even in traditional media outlets, will often simply rewrite articles they read.
We decided that we would spread efforts around between the top three tiers, hedging our bets (had we not gotten any coverage by AP or the Chicago Tribune, as we did, at least we would have had some tier-three coverage).
I was shocked at how many articles continued to dribble out further down the pyramid for months after the launch of FindHow. Many of these were clearly complete rip-offs of articles that had been issued during the first week or two of the campaign — all rewritten, but believe me, as the PR person, you can tell!
Some local TV stations did short 5-minute pieces on the “How-To” space featuring FindHow and its competitors — not prompted by our press release, but undoubtedly by a journalist reading one of the articles in major publications we obtained early on, and deciding to do a piece on the space.
Assemble Your List of Journalists to Target
I would recommend assembling this list in advance, but it will be a living document.
Bulldog Reporter maintains lists of journalist contact information and is one great source, I am sure there are others:
In my case, I found some extensive lists just using Google searches. I’d suggest just taking two or three prominent writers and searching on their names together in Google, with “filetype:xls” appended to the query. You’d be surprised how often there are Excel files that someone else has already assembled with Press contact information, including phone numbers (for whatever reason, nonprofits seem to assemble these a lot).
Worst-case, you can poke around a particular journalist’s media company website, find the main phone number and have the operator connect you — this almost always works.
Research Each Journalist
You need to read whatever the journalist has written recently, ideally going back at least six months, and also their bio or LinkedIn profile, if available. Wow, you may think — that sounds like a lot of work!
Let me give you an example where this paid off in spades. The ultimate journalist that every tech marketer would kill to have an audience with has got to be, hands-down, Walter Mossberg at the Wall Street Journal. When we were launching FindHow, I thought, well, it’s a new search engine, that’s pretty newsworthy, and as they say in hockey, ‘you can’t score if you don’t shoot,’ so I read everything Walt had written for the last six months.
In one of the articles, he mentioned “the burning of the Gaspee.” This really got my attention, as it refers to the burning of a British ship by Rhode Islanders *well before* the Boston Tea Party occurred. It’s something that is celebrated yearly in Warwick, Rhode Island (not far from where I live), but almost no one outside the state is aware of it. So, this stuck out like a sore thumb. Why would he mention this obscure incident in such an offhand way?
Then, I dug into his biography and found that he had started out his career as a writer for the Providence Journal in Rhode Island — here was my angle! I sent him an email pointing out that I was a Rhode Islander and would he be willing to talk about this new Search Engine we were launching. His response was (I’m paraphrasing here) “sure, I’ll talk to anyone from Rhode Island any time — come down to Washington D.C. and meet me in my office.”
This resulted in an hour-and-fifteen-minute meeting where he gave me a great lecture on Nathanael Greene’s role in the Revolution (Walt is a huge Revolutionary War buff) for half of it, and the other half of it, he listened to my pitch and gave me great feedback.
As it turned out, his assistant put out an article on the how-to space the week before our meeting occurred but before our launch (I’m convinced due to the attention I brought to the topic), so essentially, they had already covered the space, and we didn’t get any coverage. But, I got to pitch the #1 guy; and, you’ll see in part 3 of this series of articles how that actually helped boost my credibility with other journalists. All because I simply read what he had written.
So, during your planning phase, read each journalist’s biography if you can find it, and their recent writings – and keep any notes on this in a tracking spreadsheet, it will come in very handy during the actual pitching process.
Schedule Your Announcement
When FindHow was 100% ready to launch, we made the difficult decision of delaying the launch by two months. This may seem crazy — that’s two months worth of traffic we missed out on, we were two months later to market, and so on!
But, by “scheduling a launch date” and positioning the site as being in “limited beta” until then, we had plenty of time to execute on a highly effective PR campaign and pitch numerous media outlets on covering the launch.
In phone pitches, I was able to tell journalists that the site was in a very exclusive limited beta and I could give them access to it ahead of the launch if they would like to check it out. By waiting to start our PR push until the site was rock-solid (and essentially slipping our launch date to accommodate the PR efforts), we were assured that journalists would have a smooth, trouble free experience.
Feedback ranged from ideas regarding sources of trustworthy content we should consider including, to topic areas to add, to layout and usability tweaks that simplified the user experience. Journalists are sharp people and have been around the block – they make great beta testers; leverage them!
Flexibility Is Key
Allowing the PR effort to drive the announcement date is also *critically important* from a flexibility standpoint. In FindHow’s case, we were initially shooting for a particular announcement date, until we found out that a little company called Apple was launching a little product called the iPhone 3G on that day.
It doesn’t take a Genius (so to speak) to figure out that FindHow wasn’t going to get much attention on that day, or for a few days after, so as soon as we became aware of this, we quickly changed our announcement date to three days later than Apple’s launch. If we had not had the flexibility to do this, we probably would have gotten 90% less coverage than we got, because literally every journalist on the planet was working *only* on an iPhone article for release on that first date, or the day after.
So when planning your announcement and PR campaign, be aware of what other events might be taking place around the same time as your projected announcement date – holidays, known upcoming geopolitical events, the Olympics, and so on, can put a real crimp in your results.
This concludes Public Relations for SEO: The Complete Guide on How To Target Journalists, where we provided strategies for targeting journalists and tips for scheduling your announcement. Finally, we’ll conclude the series with how to pitch journalists and how to work it just before, on and after the announcement of your release.
- Part 1: Public Relations For SEO: The Complete Guide
- Part 2: Public Relations For SEO: How To Target Journalists
- Part 3: Public Relations For SEO: How To Pitch Journalists
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.