In the world of PR agency land, one of the first things a newbie encounters is a media database. It’s a service that the agency pays for. It provides contact and bio information for literally everyone that’s “in the media.” Beat reporters, producers, feature writers, anchors, assignment desks, bloggers, pundits, you name it. Our aforementioned newbie is often charged with logging into a media database and compiling media lists: rosters that, in theory, align with a client, campaign, project, etc. They pass this to their higher up, get a glance of approval and then “pitch” against it. However, true pitching (aka, personal, relevant outreach that has some actual context and true relevance) isn’t what usually happens. Said list (which often numbers into the hundreds or thousands and are developed by simple keyword searches) is fed into a mail merge and every “recipient” gets the same thing. In a way, it’s sort of like spam.
So put yourself in the shoes of those recipients. Would you want to get and will you even care about a mass-blast? Of course not. It is apparent that the sender cares just enough about you, what you’re working on and what your audience cares about to lop you in with four digits worth of “peers.”
But jumping back to how these list are created, to say they are less then scrubbed is an understatement. As mentioned, they’re often created by keyword searches with a few filters. Example: anyone who covers “business” at a daily anywhere in the U.S. Can you imagine how many people that might be? And can you imagine how many are likely poorly targeted since “business” is such a catchall that lots of media cover? Does building a media list in this way save time? Sure. But it’s likely at the cost of quality.
If media databases and the lists the spawn are bad for PR, what’s the alternative? As mentioned before, start by listening. Actually absorb the relevant media and its content. Make a Twitter list. Build your list by hand. (Can’t find the email addresses and contact info you need, you say? Bull. If someone even remotely works in the digital realm, you can find their email address. Stop making excuses.) Start small. Make soft intros. Be useful to the media you seek.
Folks in the media make it beyond apparent what they cover, what they care about and what their audience wants. All you have to do is go get it.
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