Five ways to research journalists before pitchingIt’s a rushed day in the office. You make it in by 7 a.m., hoping to get ahead on emails while enjoying that delicious, warm morning java then boom: 20 new emails appear. Zero are relevant.

OK, OK. Thanks to the delete button, you can still clean up your inbox before your 9 a.m. staff meeting. Phew. But before you dive back in, it’s time for a coffee refill. From the looks of it, it’s going to be a long day.

As you settle back in, coffee in hand, you notice 30 new emails appeared in just the past 10 minutes. Five of those are relevant.

You’re frustrated. You’re stressed. And you’re definitely not looking at – let alone responding to – those irrelevant emails.

Journalists go through this painstaking process every single day. Just ask reporter Zach Schonfeld. He did a one-week test opening and responding to every PR pitch. It was agonizing, to say the least, and embarrassing for the PR industry as a whole.

But, if you want to be one of those five relevant (and, ultimately read – not deleted) emails from the scenario above, you need two things:

Time and research.

Many defer to a “spray-and-pray” method because they just don’t have time. But here’s an idea:

When planning out your media relations, don’t just map out the time to build a Cision list, write the pitch and send/ follow up. Add in quality, thorough research time – beyond building a database list.

Sure, this could mean your list of contacts goes from 20 to five, but I promise you, thorough research is worth it. Mass pitching 20 may (I repeat: may) lead to one, at most two, media placements.

But targeting individual pitches to one reporter at a time, even if it’s just five reporters, could lead to three or four high-quality placements.

And the bonus? You’ll be much more likely to build an ongoing relationship after the first story.

As you plan out your media relations, here are five strategies for reporter research I recommend.

1. Twitter lists

Whenever I start a new media relations campaign, I build a Twitter list for the reporters I’m hoping to work with. Then, I make the list one of my 10 streams in Hootsuite for daily monitoring. This helps me understand:

  • Who these reporters are,
  • What they’re interested in – both for stories and outside of work, and
  • What opportunities I have for interacting with them and getting noticed.

2. SMS notifications for tweets

If there’s one reporter I really think is great for a story, I’ll get his/her tweets sent straight to my phone as alerts. That way I don’t miss a single tweet, and I can reference something s/he is interested in during my pitch.

3. Alerts

I use Talkwalker Alerts and Google Alerts to stay updated on the reporter’s work and accomplishments.

For example, if the reporter wins a journalism industry award, I’ll say congrats in my pitch email. (Or, if I’ve already started to build that relationship, I can send a quick congrats email, asking for nothing in return.)

4. Coffee meetings

This is a great way to hear which story ideas resonate, straight from the source. With the increasingly busy media world, coffee meetings are tough to set up.

But, if you make it worth their while (and short), you can learn a lot. I’d suggest going into the meeting with three to four story ideas to show you’ve done the research and thinking already. Then, let the reporter share feedback as well as specific stories s/he is looking for.

5. Read

Hello “no brainer.” Of course you want to read your target reporters’ articles. But don’t just read and call it a day. Look for trends to help guide what type of content you pitch:

  • Do they prefer listicles? Pitch your story as a list.
  • Do they quote several people? Find one or two story sources, beyond just your spokesperson.
  • Do they include visuals? Pitch an accompanying graphic or photo with your content.

The more you dive in and learn from their stories – instead of pushing what you want – the more likely you are to land that story.

Like all things, media relations done well takes time. There’s no getting around it.

But a large percentage of PR pros do still take the spray-and-pray method (as Zach’s article illustrates). To stand out, do your research, read those articles, and put yourself in the reporter’s shoes by asking:

“Would I want to read this email?”

This post first appeared on Stephanie Vermillion’s blog, PR State of Mind.