Thursday, February 18, 2010

'Net PR

There's been a lot of talk about the ever-changing world of mass media and, in turn, public relations in reaction to those changes.  Certainly, the internet has forced media entities to change the way they gather and disseminate information.  Just take a look at the Q n A entry with Marc Sternfield of FOX News, Denver, and you'll see how social media and the internet in general has forced television news to expand their efforts, even as their budgets are being slashed and burned.

From a small business and non-profit standpoint all this change can be confusing.  Worse, it can lead to a feeling of instability.  This might lead many of you to think that it's just better to wait until things stabilize to put your efforts into social media and public relations efforts.  I'm here to tell you that this is a bad idea.

Consider this:

1.  While the technology changes, the people remain relatively static.  In other words.  New platforms come and go, but the individuals working in newsrooms will still be there.  The faces may change, but their responsibilities and goals of a newsroom don't.  They still look for news of the day.  They still look for interesting and useful content.  They still focus on the audience desires as their primary job.  The changing technology simply represents tools, it doesn't change the whole paradigm of news.  This means your pitch will still be effective as long as you hit the key buttons of location, timeliness, impact, relevance and wow factor. 

2.  The changes will never stop coming.  If you're waiting for a more "stable" time to start your outreach campaign, you'll be waiting a long, long time.  Even before the internet, major changes impacted the news.  At one point, newspapers were the major delivery system.  Then came radio, then television, and now the internet.  Trust me, something else will come down the pike, likely sooner rather than later, that will turn the industry on its head again.

I do understand the confusion.  People in news and pr also have a hard time keeping up with all the changes and dealing with smaller and smaller budgets.  This is why it's so important to focus on the basics of telling your story, crafting your message, using the pr basics and, importantly, building relationships.

If you continue to work the basics, the technology won't make or break your pitch.  With all of that said, there ARE some advantages to the changing technology that you can use to help expand the reach of your pr and social media efforts.  Remember, you're not changing your basic pitch (at least no more than you would to tailor it for various "traditional" media outlets), you're simply taking your solid pitch and being more creative about where you pitch.

Going where no pitch has gone before:

When we talk about public relations, too many of us focus only on the traditional mass media we've all grown up with.  Everything else, in some circles, constitutes social media.  Sadly, in my opinion, this is a prominent way of thinking right now, and it does a disservice to not only small businesses and non-profits, but to the myriad of excellent sites that gather and report news.

When you are considering pitching your story or organization, you obviously send it to local papers and radio and tv stations.  You might even target a few magazines and some neighborhood publications.  But what about blogs?  E-zines?  Podcasts or Vlogs?  Chances are you probably haven't considered those as viable media outlets.  You should.

On any given day, the most watched news broadcast in Denver reaches between 80 and 100-thousand viewers; and that's being a little generous.  There are blogs right now that are averaging more than that a day.  Vodkapundit, a political blog, reaches nearly that many on a regular basis.  On the best day, the most a local Denver news station can hope to reach is a few million.  Of course, that's based solely on resident statistics for the Denver-metro area, and they will never, ever, ever reach that many at once. 

Online sources, however, can reach many times that by virtue of its global reach.  Online, you have access to billions of potential viewers, listeners and readers. 

Obviously, blogs, ezines, podcasts and vlogs fall into the social media category, but why not approach them as you would other traditional news outlets?  Think what you will about bloggers, but many of them are very passionate about what they write about.  Most of them understand that they have to be accurate and straightforward in their reporting or they will be called out on it almost immediately. 

As the internet and social media environment has become more powerful and sophisticated, online news resources have become, in many ways, a lot like the more traditional outlets they have maligned for so long.  They have an audience they have to feed.  They have to check their facts, they have to make sure they are accurate, they have to continuously search for interesting and useful content.

The biggest difference is a lack of editorial oversight, but many sites do a pretty good job of policing themselves.  There is still the element of opinion and editorializing on blogs and other internet sources.  But more and more, facts and actual news ends up being reported to go along with the opinions. 

On the side of my blog you'll see a list of blogs I follow regularly.  Take a look at Mashable.com.  It's a wonderful site.  It reports on the latest social media and technological changes and updates.  It mixes in some thoughtful insight and opinion and challenges readers to form their own opinion and respond.

The right platform:

If I had a new social media platform, you know I'd be sending a release to the creators of that site.  I'd also be on podcasts that focus on technology.  With a few well-placed releases, I could end up being covered in an ezine, being interviewed for a podcast or vlog and have my product discussed on a site like Mashable.  Those three hits alone will garner me two to three times more attention and coverage than a couple of major hits in more traditional media outlets.

Go ahead, google "Podcast networks" and you'll find there are networks out there talking about everything under the sun.  The same goes for ezines and blogs.  The point is, you shouldn't forget about these wonderful resources when putting your pitch plan together.

Pitching the 'Net:

The biggest question I hear, though, about these resources is how to reach them.  Well, there are a few ways, starting with building relationships.  But when considering how to reach out to these sites, consider that it's a lot like reaching out to traditional newsrooms.  When you think like that, the job becomes much easier.

1.  Know their content - Just like pitching traditional outlets, it benefits you to spend a little time on a particular blog or ezine, or listen to a podcast or two to understand exactly what the sites' focus is all about.  You wouldn't pitch a story about vintage cars to Vogue.  Don't pitch a story about a restaurant to a political blog (unless the point of the pitch is inherently political).

2.  Build relationships - Unlike traditional news outlets, the number of individuals you have to reach at an online site is pretty small.  Maybe even just a single writer.  While you're spending time checking out the site, link to it, comment on the entries, participate in the discussions.  The blogger or podcaster will come to recognize you on some level.  This means when you send them a release, it won't be coming from a stranger; it's coming from someone who is familiar with the site and someone who is active.

3.  Feed the need; treat them with respect - Bloggers, podcasters, ezine writers, etc, all want to be viewed as someone who is trusted and respected.  They have an ego, just as reporters, editors and producers do.  When you make a request or pitch, or send a release to any of these sites, do it the same way you would as if you were sending it to a traditional media outlet.  This tells them that you respect what they do and you see them as a site that is valuable and important.  This won't gaurantee that they will mention your story, or grant you an interview, but they will appreciate your respect and remember you the next time you pitch.

4.  Be aware of their platform - In other words, if you're pitching to a blog, make sure you add photos to your pitch.  If its a podcast, make sure you're available for interviews or have a sound file that can be played to enhance your pitch.  If it's a vlog, offer video.  In fact video, photos and sound files can be used by all three of these entities, so if you have them, use them in your pitch.  We're not just dealing with words here.  We're dealing with multi-media.  That's the magic of the internet.  Make sure you offer everything that can be used to help your pitch.  The creators and managers of these sites are often even more strapped for time and cash than traditional sites.  Anything you do that makes their job easier is just a plus in your favor.

In the end, the most important thing is to remember that these outlets are out there and that they're reaching millions of readers, viewers and listeners every day.  These sites aren't just social media platforms, they're information platforms; news platforms, if you will.  When you're putting together your pitch plan, you overlook these outlets at your own risk.

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