By Michael Healey (@mswhealey), account executive and influencer specialist at The Whiteoaks Consultancy
Top-level influencer engagement is a tricky business. This is not because we're inundated with publications and journalists to whom we send our client's content - if you truly understand what your client does, tools like FeaturesExec and Gorkana provide more than enough intelligence to ensure you target a well-suited publication and journalist for the job. If you get a grilling because you pitched a thought-leadership article on the paperless NHS to Print Week, you've only got yourself to blame, really. The issue we have as influencer specialists is not who, but how we approach our opposite numbers, and while the tools mentioned above do shed some light on the preferred medium to contact Mr. Smith with a press release, there's usually a far more effective means of doing so.
At Whiteoaks, capturing journalist intelligence (movements, pitching preferences and indulgences) is a big part of the media relations role. This data, which is stored in a centralised document and updated in real-time for all teams to see, is the reason why I know not to email Charles Arthur at The Guardian a press release, or to call Daniel Booth at Web User to gauge his interest in reviewing a newly-designed website. This information has saved me a lot of time and unwanted attention over the months, and is the reason why I have managed to build and sustain profitable relationships with key people. But we humans like to have the option of an alternative, and the new kid on the block, HowToPitch.me, is on the verge of becoming a very, very useful one indeed.
The platform was introduced to me by my good friend Toby Margetts, engagement executive at Beyond Consultancy. I was new to media relations and the technology industry and the time, and with Whiteoaks' 'Jarvis' equivalent in beta mode and my pride in taters after numerous verbal beat downs by very mean journos, I was in desperate need of a solution.
The HowToPitch.me concept is a simple one, as is the interface. Journalists and bloggers create their own profiles in a matter of minutes that explicitly state what they like, what they don't and how they would like to be pitched to by PRs (via phone, email, Twitter etc.). The platform is essentially a self-verified database that provides fast and accurate information on how to pitch the world's media, thus improving the likelihood of successful conversions. Unfortunately, the site's 'search by beat' feature which breaks down journalists by vertical, i.e. telecoms, is not yet up and running. So if you don't know who you should be targeting in the first place, the business of browsing through the hundreds of profiles that exist to find the right contact is tiresome and time-consuming. However, it's still early days for HowToPitch.me, and as more journalists and bloggers sign up to the site and the more clout it receives as a valued-added tool for all parties involved, the quicker we should see this functionality appear. In the meantime, for those of you starting out in media relations, consult your tiered media list or use FeaturesExec to locate the right contact, check HowToPitch.me to see if that contact has a profile and any pitching guidelines, and pitch away. If not, speak with fellow influencer specialists in your agency for a steer and create an internal intelligence system to record the outcomes of our outreach.
The theory behind HowToPitch.me certainly makes a whole lot of sense. In January this year, Nicolas Holmes, the bright spark behind the platform, told journalism.co.uk: "So much ink has been spilled on PR spam and how to stop it. Part of the problem is that access to journalists is still a bit of a walled garden. You have to pay for media databases – and I don’t see why that should be the case.”
Interestingly, I went to a free Gorkana briefing in London with PC Pro and other Dennis titles last month, to listen to the editor, Barry Collins, talk about his relationship with public relations professionals. It was a great briefing. I learnt a lot about a key title for my clients, got to speak with Barry personally about his thoughts on receiving client-equivalent forward features, and made the most of the complimentary coffee and croissants provided. But it took an entire morning. And while PR people love an event and an opportunity to network, I can't imagine Barry taking every Wednesday morning off to talk to PRs the city over about the best way to pitch him and his colleagues. He simply doesn't have the time. Many journalists don't have the time for a phone call. So, just like Ushahidi aggregated citizen reporting during outbreaks of violence in Kenya in 2007, HowToPitch.me can, hypothetically, aggregate this available but dispersed journalist intelligence and free up a truck-load of time for everyone. No more time wasting looking at or listening to pitches that fail to make the grade, and no more time spent riffling through the internet in search of best practice.
But the million dollar question is: will journalists and bloggers sign up? I'm writing this blog because I think they should. In media relations, it's important we make journalist's lives easier, and if we can do that by providing interesting, relevant content for their readerships in ways that engage them, they will love us for it, and so will our clients.
While HowToPitch.me has generated some buzz since the turn of the New Year, it needs to do more if it stands any chance of out-smarting its paid-for rivals. To date there is no official figure on the number of HowToPitch.me users, but it's clear that hundreds of journalists have already signed up. I will be waiting with bated breath over the course of the next few months and keeping my eyes peeled for any significant shifts in momentum. Whether the database flies like a bat out of hell in 2013, or plummets like the poor passenger pigeon of the past, remains to be seen.
If you're a journalist on HowToPitch.me, or a PR who has used the service to pitch a story, please share your thoughts by submitting a comment in the comment box below. Or if you've been publicly shamed by a journalist, find solidarity here.
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The B2B PR Blog is a resource for both PR professionals and people working in B2B industries on how to devise and implement successful B2B PR campaigns. The blog is managed by b2b pr specialist Heather Baker, founder TopLine Comms, an inbound marketing, B2B content marketing agency and proud HubSpot partner agency and takes contribution from anyone sensible in the industry with something intelligent to say. Follow Heather on Twitter @TopLineFounder or contact her via email on firstname.lastname@example.org.
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