You have all these great story ideas about your company and its products, you’ve written your press releases with a sure hand and are ready to get the word out. But where do you start? Other than reading the bylines in your local newspaper, you know no journalists. Well, it’s time to start meeting some and begin building relationships with them, just as you would with a new customer or prospective lead.
Building media lists is very much like building your database of key customers or a list of new leads: you must know your audience and your market intimately. First, think about the geographic regions you want to target, based on where your customers and potential customers are. Then, think about the publications of interest to your customers in those regions. It could be a daily newspaper, a local magazine, or even a trade publication. What are the local TV affiliates in these areas? Are there any local community newsletters? Create a master list, then find out the correct contact at each outlet for your type of business story or product area. Sending a release about a new piece of software to the travel editor at the Boston Globe will simply wind up in the circular file. But by learning the name of the technology editor of the business section and finding out how she likes to receive newsworthy information (phone, fax, email, snail mail only), you will be one step closer to having your story heard and considered by the right person.
Where to Find Media Contact Information
There are many free and paid resources available to help you build your media database. Visit your local library for a listing of regional publications or free online sources like political parties (they sometimes have listings). Or use search engines to find specific newspapers, magazines, or local TV stations. Look up the media outlet online. Many of them have specific places on their websites where you can submit your release directly to the publication. There are also paid services like PR Newswire and Vocus that will not only build your lists for you, but handle the distribution as well. These services offer huge master databases housing every publication from The Town Tattler to the New York Times. Gather all the information you can, including the journalist’s name, specific title or department, phone, fax, email, and snail mail address. If possible, determine how the journalist would like to receive information. Some prefer email, others fax, and some still say “write only,” which means if they receive anything other than the old-school press release in a #10 envelopes officially stamped by the United States Post Office, there’s a good chance you’ll never hear from them.
Be sensitive to these folks’ time, too. Calling a reporter to “chat about an idea” while he’s on deadline trying to file a story will not only aggravate him, but will most likely ruin your chances of any story placement in that publication.
If you’re looking for some free publicity for an event, don’t call two days before it’s scheduled to take place to see if the newspaper “could put something in tomorrow’s paper.” Newspapers traditionally work on a three to four week lead-time; magazines anywhere from six to 12 months. TV, sometimes in less than an hour! If your event is on June 12, you’ll want to send out your press release by the middle of May. If your new product launch is slated for fall 2009, start thinking about sending information to magazines by spring/summer 2008.
Understanding the journalists’ world and how they operate is the key to building a successful media list, one that’s juicy with hot contacts and leads looking for the right story to tell. Just remember, developing your media list is like developing your customer list. Get to the heart of what the media want and when they want it – then deliver it! And while a big mass media list covers more territory, your story pitch may not apply to all on the list, reducing your chance for good quality editorial success. But if you have a targeted, well-thought out list that contains up-to-date contacts, there’s a good chance you have the start of some beautiful relationships, which ultimately will garner some fantastic free publicity!
A dedicated marketing professional, Michelle Kabele has been helping technology companies develop award-winning channel partner programs and marketing strategies for over 10 years. Michelle has worked extensively with small businesses throughout North America.
Michelle has an MBA from the J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management (Evanston, Ill.)