Gini Dietrich

Media Relations Done Well: Ten Ways to Personalize

By: Gini Dietrich | February 19, 2015 | 
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Media Relations Done WellBy Gini Dietrich

Earlier this week, Jason Falls—no spring chicken when it comes to media relations—decided it was time to “out” PR firms who add bloggers and journalists to their lists without permission.

It is, after all, spam, yet it happens Every. Single. Day.

If you are on the receiving end of these pitches, it gets to be really overwhelming. And then it moves to annoying. You spend half your email time deleting media relations emails that shouldn’t be in your inbox to begin with.

The Media Relations Conundrum

Just yesterday I received an email from a PR pro that said a Broken Egg Cafe had raised nearly $4,000 for local nonprofits during its grand opening.

I just shook my head and deleted it, but I also feel badly for the PR pro who sent it. He’s going to have to go through his list and email me again (and again and again) to see if I’m interested.

And then I’m stuck in a conundrum: If I answer him, he engages in an email debate (which happens way more often than not). If I don’t answer him, he’ll keep filling my inbox with statements such as, “Just putting this at the top of your inbox so you don’t miss it.” (I HATE THAT!)

But if he’d done his research, he’d know that I no longer write for Franchise Times and haven’t in FOUR YEARS.

So, rather than try to figure out why I’m not answering him, I wouldn’t be on his list to begin with.

If he read the magazine, he’d know who covers these things and he’d send a personalized email to that person instead of the same news release to a big list.

Ten Ways to Personalize Media Relations

It takes a lot of time and energy to do media relations really well.

If you want to do it on your own (though it’s sometimes far less expensive to hire a professional the first time around), here are some things to consider.

  1. Read blogs, publications, and online sites, and watch the programs and listen to the shows where you want to appear. It takes time, but it works because you figure out what the journalist, blogger, producer, or host really care about. Either your story fits or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, no matter how badly you want a story in that publication, move on. In the case of the PR pro working for Broken Egg, he’d know who covers franchise openings at Franchise Times and he wouldn’t have sent it to me.
  2. Personalize your pitch. Rosemary O’Neill, the co-founder of Social Strata, the makers of Hoop.la, decided to offer unlimited paid time off to her employees. The company has an office in Seattle and Rosemary reads a Seattle Times journalist daily. She already knew what the journalist covers, and knew what would be interesting to her. She sent a two sentence email about the new policy and the journalist ran a story about it. But it didn’t end there. National media picked it up as a new business trend and Social Strata was put on the map as a trend-setting tech company.
  3. Comment on blog posts and articles. This is the very best way for a journalist or blogger to get to know you. When you make smart comments on the articles they’re producing, you build a relationship. When you build a relationship, they are much more willing to talk to you about your story. Some, in fact, will even help you mold the story if it’s not an exact fit. Think about that from your own perspective. How many of you have commented here and we’ve become friends that way? It works.
  4. Don’t send a long email. We are all busy. If you send an email that has everything anyone could ever possibly want to know about you, it won’t be read. Take the approach Rosemary used and send a quick, attention grabbing email. The details can come later.
  5. Lose the idea of control. Yes, when you have an interview, you should be prepared. You should ask the journalist or blogger ahead of time what kinds of questions you can expect to be asked. Use those questions to figure out what you want to say. But you cannot control the end result messaging. Your one or two messages might get repeated, but you cannot control the interview.
  6. Use the social networks. If you have targeted publications or journalists in your industry, find them on their social networks. Find them on Twitter, then add them to a Twitter list so you see everything they tweet. Find a reason to connect with them there, even if it’s just to introduce yourself, and keep the conversation going every day. Soon enough you’ll find something they are working on that is a fit for you.
  7. Read their articles. Unless they’re in TV, most journalists have something you can read and comment on. Many will read the comments on their articles to source new people to call. If you offer a differing opinion or provide more information on the topic, it’s highly likely they will contact you for future stories. (Case in point: The comment I left on a USA Today article that led to the journalist to reconsider.)
  8. Send something in the mail. The joke among authors is, when you publish a book, all you really have is an expensive business card. But it works really well as a gift to journalists whose radar you want to get on. If you haven’t written a book, send a copy of a book from an author you admire. Even a handwritten note works extremely well in todays fast-paced, impersonal digital world.
  9. Personalize your pitches. It’s pretty easy to write a news release about your latest big new thing, copy it into an email, add a bunch of email addresses, and hit send. But that rarely works (see example above). You’ve spent all this time getting to know your industry journalists. Don’t insult them by sending them the same thing you sent to everyone else on your list.
  10. Be available to talk about industry trends. There will be times you don’t have any new news to share, or the news you do have doesn’t fit what your targeted journalists are writing about. However, they may draw on you to comment on industry trends or news. While it may be just a quote in a bigger story, the strategy here is to be helpful as often as possible. The you scratch my back philosophy comes into play, and you might end up with a bigger story centered around you.

Going through this media relations process takes time. A lot of time.

The reason you hire a professional is not just because they have relationships you need. It’s  because (if they’re good) they use this process every, single day.

But you can do it yourself if you’re willing to roll up your sleeves, get your hands a little dirty, and be patient.

Today’s Exercise

Set your timer for 30 minutes and get to work on the following exercise.

  1. Choose one newspaper, magazine, or blog that makes a difference in your industry. It can be the Wall Street Journal or it can be one of your trade publications. Choose just one.
  2. Once a week, comment on one article, blog post, or editorial. If you disagree, fantastic! Say so. But do it professionally. Being negative or criticizing without a solution isn’t helpful. Professional discourse is.
  3. Hyperlink Web-based resources related to your comments. Cite professional journals in your own work. You want to make it easy for the journalist.
  4. Keep this up.
  5. After about six weeks, the journalist will feel like he or she is beginning to know you and a relationship will begin to blossom. At that point, you can begin your give and take relationship. They’ll likely take your phone calls or return your emails, if you’re smart about how you approach them.
  6. Every quarter add another publication, so you have four that you focus on each year.
  7. Don’t be afraid to go after the big publications. If your expertise adds value to the stories they’re reporting, comment away!

All you need to do today is create your list, prioritize them, and leave your first comment.

Set your timer and go!

The Scavenger Hunt

And speaking of Rosemary O’Neill, if you are participating in the Spin Sucks scavenger hunt, today you will visit her blog.

The secret word is in her blog post, “Is Running a Branded Online Community Risky Business?

Just write down the secret word in Rosemary’s box on your scavenger hunt card (if you don’t have a card, download it here).

We have through March 3, so keep playing along (and you can work backwards, if you’re just starting out).

And don’t forget…if you buy a copy of Spin Sucks between now and March 8, we’ll send you a fun package full of goodies to use in your office, including a Spin Sucks computer sticker, a Spin Sucks Sharpie, and more. I’ll even personalize and sign a nameplate for you to put in the front of your book.

Just email the receipt to iboughtspinsucks@armentdietrich.com. Please include your mailing address so we know where to send the package.

Now get to work! Thirty minutes. Go!

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

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109 Comments on "Media Relations Done Well: Ten Ways to Personalize"

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biggreenpen
1 year 3 months ago

Spin. Sucks. Sharpie. = Heaven (oh and this post was pretty great too!)

ginidietrich
1 year 3 months ago

biggreenpen I love Sharpies so it seems like something everyone should get!

belllindsay
1 year 3 months ago

You know, *I’m* getting lots of email lately where I’m saying “Um, what?” – lots of spam, and lots of “daily updates” stuff as well. When did *adding people without permission* become ok?? And little do those people realize, *I’m* in Canada – with one of the toughest anti-spam laws in the world!! Mwaaaa-hahahaha!!  (I’m just not that mean, but oh, I wish I was sometimes.)

biggreenpen
1 year 3 months ago

ginidietrich biggreenpen I am quite sure many of the world’s problems can be cured by the right person wielding a sharpie.

ginidietrich
1 year 3 months ago

biggreenpen LOL

ginidietrich
1 year 3 months ago

belllindsay Adding people without permission is NOT OK. If you want to see something fun, go read Jason Falls’s Twitter stream. He got in a fight with the CEO of a PR firm because they did that. She was super nasty about it and then finally backed down. It’s entertaining.

rosemaryoneill
1 year 3 months ago

Great post, and I think similar rules apply to people who “cold call” for services. I’ve had someone harassing me by email and phone for about 3 months now, when I never expressed interest in the first place.

By the way, being in the scavenger hunt today, I feel like I’m at a surprise party hiding behind the couch waiting to jump out and yell “surprise!” This was so fun, thanks for including me!

ldiomede
ldiomede
1 year 3 months ago

I do love this post. Sadly, in my earlier years, sending out a blanket email to your “list” was how agencies trained new recruits. I’m sure it’s still happening. Yet, it’s common sense that you would never form any relationship this way. C’mon, let’s all just use some common sense!

stephenkentmoore
stephenkentmoore
1 year 3 months ago
Great post. When I first started in comms, we shot out mass emails all of the time. We had terrible open rates.  There are two ways that I’ve had a lot of success personalizing pitches or actually helping journalists. 1. Know the reporters who cover your industry and get to know their quirks or the stories they’re obsessed about. I always kept my eyes out for exclusive information related to their obsessions. When I find it, I send it their way at the optimal time. Reporters are always receptive. 2. Always watch the latest research. Discuss it with them. Share… Read more »
bdorman264
1 year 3 months ago

Yeah, but I’ll bet you aren’t deleting those e-mails from Nigeria helping a prince secure his inheritance, huh? 

Bottom line, people are looking for shortcuts and by throwing many lines in the water they are hoping for at least one or two bites. These ‘people’ need to get back to the basics and build it the ‘right’ way.

RobBiesenbach
1 year 3 months ago

I HATE this. It’s not just PR firms. It’s almost every person I meet through networking and at conferences. We have a nice talk, share information, agree to stay in touch. Then suddenly I’m on their monthly (or weekly) email newsletter list! It really ticks me off. 

I have never added a single person to my list — they all have to opt in themselves. My mother heard about my updates and wanted in. I made HER sign up herself!

Seth Godin wrote about this, what, 15 years ago???

Word Ninja
1 year 3 months ago
What you’re talking about here takes effort, but some PR people just want to be able to say, yep, I contacted a bazillion people, did my job.  Our mar com office gets calls from a media/sales person who makes the rounds from one person to the next, never bothering to note that “Amanda said she doesn’t handle the IT budget for the entire organization, check” or “They said they don’t use that tool, check.” Instead she just keeps pitching whatever.  Yesterday I even tried to have a human conversation with her, and she kept trying to get me to answer… Read more »
allpointspr100
allpointspr100
1 year 3 months ago

Any and all marketing and PR has to be personal. If it is canned, it will be canned. Thanks for the post, Gini. 
_____________________________
Jamie I
All Points PR — Chicago PR Agency
http://allpointspr.com

KristenDaukas
1 year 3 months ago

I never get pitched on the business side but on my parenting sites? All the time. And even you know, Gini, that my sites are for parents of OLDER kids so believe me that my patience runs thin when a PR firm comes along to pitch me on their products, services, magic wands for babies and toddlers. 9 times out of 10 I just delete them but on special days, I take the time to respond that I am so glad they enjoyed by site. Nothing says you’re special like a blanket BCC.

AndrewTeixeira
AndrewTeixeira
1 year 3 months ago

Worked with Social Strata and Rosemary on a project last year – she’s awesome!

belllindsay
1 year 3 months ago

Word Ninja “Oh, no, lady. I’ve definitely decided.” – LOLOL!!

belllindsay
1 year 3 months ago

RobBiesenbach Your poor mom.

belllindsay
1 year 3 months ago

stephenkentmoore Ooooh, number one is SO SMART!!

belllindsay
1 year 3 months ago

ginidietrich Oh my. You KNOW how much I love to lurk!!! LOL

ginidietrich
1 year 3 months ago

AndrewTeixeira She IS awesome!

ginidietrich
1 year 3 months ago

KristenDaukas OMG. I can just imagine what you get. It has to be 1,000 times worse than what I get.

ginidietrich
1 year 3 months ago

allpointspr100 Amen.

ginidietrich
1 year 3 months ago

Word Ninja LOL!! “Oh, no, lady. I’ve definitely decided.” I see Lindsay liked that, too.

ginidietrich
1 year 3 months ago

RobBiesenbach I HATE THAT, TOO! There is a very well-known social person (HUGE brand) who does this. I keep unsubscribing and he keeps adding me.

ginidietrich
1 year 3 months ago

bdorman264 I am most decidedly NOT deleting those.

ginidietrich
1 year 3 months ago

stephenkentmoore You’re hired!

ginidietrich
1 year 3 months ago

ldiomede I was actually thinking about this this morning, Lisa. I think it’s how we all started out in PR. I remember sending gigantic, super expensive media kits with product in them to journalists…without contacting them ahead of time. Stupid, stupid, stupid. But that’s how things were done back then. Today? Not so much.

ginidietrich
1 year 3 months ago

rosemaryoneill I really love how you used today’s word in your blog post. Very clever!

Word Ninja
1 year 3 months ago

ginidietrich belllindsay Ha, then you would have loved the moment she then called my colleague and he jumped out of his chair, pointed at me menacingly, and made a mad face. Like it was my fault she called him next!

martinwaxman
1 year 3 months ago

ginidietrich RobBiesenbach I just don’t get it. One of the best things about PR people blogging is that we now get irrelevant pitches. That should be a good daily reminder that we’ve got to stop doing the same! And Rob, I just subscribed! For some reason, I thought I’d already done that.

Word Ninja
1 year 3 months ago

rosemaryoneill That’s what I was ranting about in my comment. I’m not sure how it works, but I’m wondering if they get points for every level they reach in the call. Like 1 point for getting their questionnaire answered, 2 for getting my email address, 300 for not getting hung up on…

ginidietrich
1 year 3 months ago

Word Ninja belllindsay LMAO!!!!!! I would have paid to see that. Seriously.

ginidietrich
1 year 3 months ago

martinwaxman The problem, Martin, is the people who pitch this way don’t read blogs or do any professional development. They just do what they’re told.

rosemaryoneill
1 year 3 months ago

AndrewTeixeira You’re too kind! Thanks so much, good to see you!

ginidietrich
1 year 3 months ago

AndrewTeixeira What is Wine for the World?!

RobBiesenbach
1 year 3 months ago

belllindsay From your mouth to God’s ears. Wouldn’t be the first time she heard that. Now people say it about my wife.

rosemaryoneill
1 year 3 months ago

Word Ninja rosemaryoneill Exactly. I almost want to answer the call from this person so that I can give her a piece of my mind, but then I know she’ll get credit for getting me to pick up! It’s maddening.

rosemaryoneill
1 year 3 months ago

ginidietrich rosemaryoneill Thank you madame, there’s nothing a little Tom Cruise reference won’t remedy.

RobBiesenbach
1 year 3 months ago

ginidietrich You must name names!
martinwaxman Thank you!

RobBiesenbach
1 year 3 months ago

ginidietrich KristenDaukas I don’t get nearly as many pitches as you guys get. But what really annoys me is when I do take the time (after their 3rd attempt) to quickly explain that I am the wrong target for their pitch? I get no response! They could at least apologize for wasting my time!

LauraPetrolino
1 year 3 months ago

RobBiesenbach ginidietrich KristenDaukas YES!!  That annoys the heck out of me as well!

SMVermillion
1 year 3 months ago
Really helpful! I pretty much ruined this portion of my Spin Sucks copy with highlights, scribbles and folded pages while reading on the plane, but that’s a sign of awesome content (so, kudos!). As always, I do have one question for you scribbled into my book that I completely forgot about until now. (And I promise I’m not trying to make you write another post!) I love the idea of tip number three, and think it would work well if I was trying to get myself into PR/ industry pubs, but how would one do that for a client? For… Read more »
LauraPetrolino
1 year 3 months ago
Awesome post! The most amazing thing to me (and I see it echoed in the comments here) is often even when you try to help a someone make a pitch more personal they are often so caught in their “bot” mentality they still can’t respond to you in a human fashion. As RobBiesenbach noted with responding to say you are the wrong target (I’ve even suggested better ones) and getting no response– after they bombarded your email five zillion times, or Word Ninja recent experience.  My favorite of late is a pitch I got addressed “Dear Admin,” I responded asked a few questions (my… Read more »
martinwaxman
1 year 3 months ago

RobBiesenbach ginidietrich You’re right, Gini. So it’s something that has to change at the manager/director level (or above). The funny thing is spray and pray never worked and really hurt the industry’s reputation and credibility. And yet, we continue to play the odds like a rube in a casino. (I don’t often get to use the word rube, so thanks.)

And Rob, you’re welcome!

kvneisen
kvneisen
1 year 3 months ago

arikhanson aimclear ginidietrich interesting – had never heard the “comment on their article” tip. Makes sense tho.

aimclear
aimclear
1 year 3 months ago

kvneisen arikhanson ginidietrich It can help build a relationship, I think. ^kw

Digital_DRK
1 year 3 months ago

LauraPetrolino  You should have replied using the admin@spinsucks account.

Jennafriend
Jennafriend
1 year 3 months ago

I am a very small company (just me) doing PR and promotions for reggae artistes.  I have thought about using an email blast to target DJs but have been very reluctant. Sending personalized emails takes up a lot of time but the results far outweigh the time spent. Thank you for confirming I’m on the right track.

Digital_DRK
1 year 3 months ago

My relative social media anonymity precludes me from being pitched. However when I follow back someone on twitter I do occasionally receive a nice impersonal private  message encouraging me to follow them on LinkedIn or somewhere. Twitter messages beginning with my real first name are the ones I pay attention to. 

As per #3 – I only comment here for a shot at the spin swag.

LauraPetrolino
1 year 3 months ago

Digital_DRK LauraPetrolino You need to refer to me as Admin Petrolino from now on please.

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