Media Relations Tips: Finding the Why

As a PR person I find it oddly refreshing to be pitched. It's like the assignment Prof. Padwe gave us in journalism school to profile each other. You learn a lot when you hear your own life translated by someone else. Your own quotes come back sounding quite a bit different.

I recently received a pitch noting that I'd written about Foursquare, then went on to tell me all about another product that is similar to Foursquare, but never really told me why I should care. The PR person sent me links to a some great stories on the product, but it didn't encourage me to write at all. In a nutshell, the PR person forgot the "why." That is, why should I, as a blogger who writes what he likes, care to write about the product? To continue the pitch analogy, the PR person on the other side of this email "dropped the ball."

This isn't an easy thing. For journalists the why is pretty easy: they have to fill their content stream and something happening now often qualifies as news. Media relations folks like myself have made a career out of creating news hooks that encourage writing because those hooks answer the question "why should I write about you now?.

But targeting those motivations has become much more difficult as the ranks of journalists decrease. Plus, the rise of pageview journalism fundamentally changes the equation. Now, instead of relying on a journalist to write because your client is important to the industry, they must be sure that a story on the topic will drive readers. If it won't, then you're out of luck. Worse, if they write and find it doesn't drive readers, they're not likely to come back.

David Weinberger identified this problem by encouraging marketers to avoid the echo chamber, but the problem remains that journalists like the echo chamber as much as marketers. You want a story in in a top tech destination? First prove that you have an audience that will drive traffic to the story. But how do you build the audience without the exposure? Does building that audience even as you're in beta or stealth mode fit into your strategy? What work can you do to gain a foothold without broader media relations?

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