Yesterday, we had a lunch and learn at Thornley Fallis about the increasing importance of social news to our profession. As we sat around the boardroom table, we talked about citizen journalism and how it’s forcing mainstream media to adapt and/or adopt. We discussed the merits of reading these sites and those like them to get a sense of who’s out there reporting the news for free. We talked about how one would go about “pitching” these amateur journalists (and by the way, the answer is to not pitch them at all). We also got into a discussion about social bookmarking, but ran out of time to go into any great detail.
Fifteen years ago, a conversation about how almost anyone can become a member of the media would not have been conceivable. Similarly, fifteen years ago there was a lot less material PR professionals had to keep up with on a daily basis. My point: there are a lot more ways for PR to get their message across these days, but there is also much more that PR professionals need to keep their eyes on. Constantly.
The action item from our lunch and learn session was to go out and find the people within the world of citizen journalism that might be talking about our clients and their industries. Ideally, we should all be able to take time out of our days to find out who’s writing about which client and where they’re writing about them, read that person’s material regularly and religiously, then get to know that person by commenting and/or emailing them and building a relationship with them, and once that’s happened, gently pass something valuable their way in hopes that they’ll be more receptive to it, sort of a soft pitch, than if we were to pitch them without previously having built that relationship.
Now, if that doesn’t sound time consuming to you, I don’t know what does! Sure, reading one writer regularly isn’t hard, and reading one single publication regularly isn’t a major demand either. But if your client operates in the tech sector, can you realistically read even a percentage of every single person’s work? How about a percentage of everyone writing within that space? Could you read everything from a single day in the tech world in the course of a month – including newspapers, blogs, consumer and trade magazines, etc. Doesn’t that sound a little bit difficult? Wouldn’t it be hard to actually do your job if it were necessary for you to read everything first?
The tech industry is but one example. I don’t doubt that there are smaller circles of journalists in other industries, but my point is that it’s not easy to read everything and keep up a relationship with everybody. I would have to assume that picking and choosing your journalists to build relationships with is the only way to possibly get anything done besides relationship building. Plus, to think one would be able to read and befriend everyone who operates as a journalist within a certain industry is ridiculous. Every company has some competition, and that competition also has PR vying for the attention of a particular journalist, too. We can’t all be the NY Times’ business editors’ best friend.
So how does a PR professional stay on top of everything printed about their client and the competition in this day and age? We’ve established that we can’t read everything, so I think it’s fair to say that reading those who are influential and whose writings would be the most beneficial for one’s client is a good starting point. There’s no sense in developing relationships with unknown bloggers with few readers when the client is starving for mainstream media coverage at a national daily. Keeping a variety of sources is also a good idea. Instead of reading and developing relationships with only newspaper journalists, read a few blogs and magazines and find out who’s influential and trusted within them. I think it’s better to have one of everything than to have a lot of one thing. Finally, trust your instinct and read what you enjoy. There’s nothing worse than having to drag your eyes over text that is of no interest to you or is poorly written. If you don’t find the journalist interesting, then others likely feel the same way. Move on to something you enjoy more – you’re committing to reading someone regularly, so you might as well enjoy it!