Excel doomed as media relations manager tool


Social networking seems to be the best way to find, get in touch, and communicate with your buddies, no doubt about that. 750 million active users on Facebook, and recently a huge investment from Google to win the network battle, says something about that. Millions of discussion forums of all kind. People are truly connected to each other of thousands of reasons. And communities make perfectly sense for millions of people in millions of contexts. Not least professional. PR in particular. Communicators flock to networks, craving for likes and followers. Journalists as well. To meet their audience.

But what’s happening in the business of media relations in this amazing era of communication? Not much! An excel sheet seems to be the main tool for communicators, and journalists refer to their overloaded inboxes.

I had a great meeting with a PR communicator a few weeks ago. We were discussing the best way for her to find and organize her contacts. And not least get in touch and exchange experiences with them.
My prejudices became incorporated. She was working with an excel sheet. And as far as I’ve understood it is more of a rule than an exception. A wild guess says that 8 out of 10 of PR communicators are doing so.

Not the best media relations manager tool in the world - but the most common?

 

I recently run into a post on “The DIY PR blog – handle your own PR” which began with the sentence: “When you are doing your own PR it’s very important to have a system in place to track all of your pitching outreach efforts.” One of these “systems” was:

“Excel spreadsheet – Start an Excel spreadsheet media list to track all of your outreach efforts. You can have different tabs for each type of outlet – one for magazines, one for websites, one of local/regional media, etc. You could even set one up for editorial calendar postings that you find. Be sure to include the outlet, name, email, phone and any other relevant notes. Every time you communicate with someone make note of it in the “notes” column. Then, once a week or once a month (depending on timing of the outlet and your follow-up needs), go through each tab to be sure you are staying on top of it all.

The communicator I met said to me that’s exactly how she was dealing with media relations.

She said to me that she knew the most important journalists, and what they’re covering and writing about. She’s finding her contacts out of basic research of media. She’s making notes about their needs and wants in her sheet, and based on that she’s sharing her stories by phone and e-mail.

She said:
“As a matter of fact media relations isn’t much different from your personal relations; you’re trying to find out who you’d like to play with, and then start contribute with your life experiences based on what you’ve learned they and you have in common; your social objects.”

I said:
“Yeah, I agree, but you don’t organize your personal contacts in an excel sheet, right?

She started to laugh and said:
“Oh no… Facebook is taking care of that.”

We both realize that Excel isn’t primarily a communication tool. Not even assisted with an e-mail client.

So what would be the best place for communicators to keep and organize their most influential contacts like journalists etc? And vice versa.

Newswires like Cision? It says to be “the world’s largest database of media contacts with all of the information you need to uncover the influencers that matter”. Sounds great but the journalists (so called “target group”) are not engaged. Cision is not an engagement platform. It might even be a spam tool if used indiscriminately.
Facebook? Well, communicators (on behalf of their companies) might have a page and/or a group to meet and discuss with their audience (end customers, etc), but when it comes to media relations, they sometimes would like an exclusive exchange with one or a few of their journalist contacts. LinkedIn? Oh yes, that’s a great professional network. But hard to share content, and still linked to you personally.
Salesforce? It’s not a network on both terms, right? Hard to get a proper community with mutual exchange.
Google+? Maybe – we don’t know yet. Easy to synchronize with your G-mail contacts and create different circles of important people. But the communication is still widely open, and not content driven as the communicator often wants it to be.

And so on…

None of these and others seems to completely fit the communicators and journalists needs and wants when int comes to media relations?

What would you say about a network for journalists and communicators to exchange info and experiences with each other on both terms? I’m talking about a service that allows communicators to find their most influential people on the web, add them to their contacts lists, invite them to a network where they can organize them and communicate with them exclusively. Not least – a tool that allows journalists to find, follow, and send requests to their sources? A network based on the community that has been existing for many years, but still have great potential to flourish with new web service technologies.

How do your media relations look like, when it comes to find, organize and communicate with your contacts?

Please – feel free to respond to some questions in this survey. It just take a minute of your time, and I will send you the summary later on.

When did you pitch a friend lately?


I really dislike the word “pitch” in the context of PR. To such a degree that I might soon escape from the the entire PR business. And I’ve got almost the same feeling for the phrase “target group”. But – still – this is precisely the phrases that are some of the most frequently used in this business. And I’m truly shocked about that.


According to Wikipedia – the pitch is a part of “selling technique”; it is “a line of talk that attempts to persuade someone or something, with a planned sales presentation strategy of a product or service designed to initiate and close a sale of the product or service.” In the PR business we’re seldom dealing with products and services but the more information.

Oh, yes, I do understand we all would like to tell boastful stories that’s important for us, to the people that are valuable for us as influential people. Therefore we’re trying to “pitch” our story to these people we use to call “target group”.

But – hey – PR’s is all about relations, because excellent relations will give us great outcome, right? And I thought we’ve learned that it’s quite impossible to establish good relations with your audience by persuading? I thought PR was all about listening, understanding and serving? Focus shouldn’t be what we would like to say, but what we think they would like to hear.

And, from my point of view, it doesn’t matter if your audience is your customers or journalists. They need more or less the same approach in this matter. Everybody does.

I had a small chat with a marketer recently. She asked me: “What would you do with these new people that recently started to follow us (our business, news stream) as followers?

I said: “I think you should treat them in the same way in the virtual space as you would do in the physical space: Get to know them better! Try to figure out their needs and wants. Imagine you have a breakfast seminar and a guy showed up as a registered participant. What would you say to this guy? I would say: “Welcome! I’m so glad you could come. You’re journalist, right? (Listen to his answer) Interesting… What can I do for you? (Listen to his answer)… And so on. When you come to know him better, treat him as a friend. Serve him. Because I don’t think you look at your friends as “target groups” and I don’t think you’re trying to pitch them either?”

It makes me think of when I use to ask communicators who did visit their newsrooms. Guess what? They don’t know! They don’t even know how many they are. Think about that for awhile. If your newsroom was your breakfast seminar, you might would have a great breakfast, excellent speakers, informative whitepapers, etc – but you wouldn’t know who’s been there, and how many they were. You was not even there yourself!

But – as mentioned – pitching and target groups talk, is still hot topic in many discussions in different kind of PR groups in various of social networks. Within a couple of PR professional groups on LinkedIn, there are questions like:

“E-MAIL PITCHING: Given journalists’ overcrowded inboxes, does e-mail pitching work anymore? What are your secrets to achieving success with e-mail pitches?” and “Age-old PR dilemma … contact media by phone first or by email first….”

These discussions is all about how to pitch, not if you should pitch at all.

As an answer on the second question above; most of the members did say they use to pitch journalist by phone, or at least follow up their email pitches by phone. Only one of the answers came from a journalist, who said: “Email please…And don’t call to see if the writer got the email. If every pr person called to followup on every news release we would never have time to write a story!”

A couple of days after I’ve been following these discussions, I read an article (in swedish) by a journalist and friend of mine, who said:

“I have come to hate the phone. Not its functions, but it’s ringing and disturbing features.”

Jerry Silfwer, a PR consultant, but also a blogger, just wrote a post: “How not to pitch”. He says:

“Don’t be afraid to pitch me. Please do, I don’t mind. But make sure you email me as an individual and make sure that you’re not blasting me as a part of some obscure list somewhere.”

He gives us some examples what a pitcher forgot regarding av really bad pitch he got earlier:

  • What’s in it for me as a PR blogger? I need to be told that clearly.
  • Browsing your case studies is not a reward for anyone but your company.
  • Clarity. Why pitch me to participate (note: the pitch was regarding a survey) but not to blog about it?
  • How did you get hold of my address? In what email list am I in right now?
  • I have hundreds of other emails calling out for my attention. Why should I bother about this, when it isn’t even a personal email?
  • Don’t be so sure that 5-10 minutes is short for me and don’t thank me for participating before I’ve participated (note: the pitch said: “It only takes about 5-10 minutes to complete…”)

Honestly – I don’t think Jerry would like pitches as he says; I think he would like to be understood, treated with respect and served with great ideas for stories, but not as one of the target group. And from my point of view – that’s not a pitch.