A media database or social listening tool can help inform your best work—but don’t rely on the tech to do all the work for you. Here’s how savvy pros use their toolkits.
If “clothes don’t make the man,” then media tools don’t make the PR pro.
But they sure do make life—and PR—easier. An integrated platform that combines a database with outreach and monitoring capabilities is a force to be reckoned with, especially when it’s wielded by a PR pro that really knows their stuff.
PR tools ensure successful delivery—not overall success
A media database is one of the most useful tools a PR agency, department, or professional can invest in. It provides you the means to reach journalists and other media contacts across industries and outlets, without having to hunt for and verify the information yourself. Providers have whole research teams dedicated to maintaining and updating their database so you can be confident that your email will arrive in the intended inbox.
A media database can also help inform your research. You might already have your go-to contacts—journalists you’ve built relationships with over time who regularly respond to your pitches. If that’s not your situation (perhaps you’re representing a client in an industry you’re unfamiliar with), doing a database search for relevant contacts will give you a starting point.
You’ll want to investigate the results of your search before you decide whether these are the most relevant contacts for the story you’re going to pitch. Some databases will give you a mini-bio and a preview of a contact’s social. Don’t rely solely on this. Visit the journalist’s social media, websites, and affiliate websites to get a feel for how they write, what they like to write about (within their industry, field, niche, region, beat), and who interacts with their work. If you pair a media database with your own research, you’re more likely to have a complete, relevant, and targeted list.
While a database can provide you with the who and the how it’s still up to you to answer the why. Why this story and why that journalist? You have to write that impossible to ignore pitch, and to do that, you need:
- A nose for news
- A deep understanding of the audience you’re trying to reach
- Familiarity with the journalists you’re pitching
- Good pitching habits
There are ways (beyond research) you can optimize your lists to give you a little bit of an edge.
Here are a few ideas:
- Build smaller lists. Instead of having one big list for outreach, break it down into hyper-targeted lists. For example, “fishing” could be broken down into topics like pro-fishing, fly fishing, and freshwater fishing.
- Qualify contacts by more than their beat. If your media database allows you to search by keyword, you can look for topics relevant to your brand and be picky.
- Regularly review and update your list (Ideally before every new pitch). Make sure you aren’t missing any relevant new contacts and that you’re not including journalists that have changed outlets and beats.
PR tools listen—the analysis is up to you
Media monitoring allows you to listen far and wide—to be tuned into broad content coverage across online, print, broadcast, and social media platforms. Monitoring is even more useful when you expand your search to include industry and competitor news and anything else that is relevant or of interest.
When you spread your net wide (but not too wide), it’s like having an advanced notification system for opportunities and potential crises. With strategic monitoring you can:
- Seize a relevant trend in your industry and insert your story or that of your client into the narrative.
- Avoid or learn from a crisis that befalls your competitor.
- Identify the possible advocates and critics of your brand or client (which will give insight into who you may want to target or avoid in your next round of pitching).
But just like with your database tool, media monitoring can only take you so far. It provides you the information you need on the present media climate, trends, and buzz, but it’s up to you to seize the moment.
How to get the full benefits of media monitoring:
- Keep your mentions organized with tags that break down coverage by sub-categories (very useful if you have multiple products, services, locations, departments, and so on).
- Narrow or broaden mentions by using geographical restraints—but remember, social media doesn’t generally follow the same regional restraints so don’t limit yourself on that specific platform.
PR tools measure—but you have to prove ROI
Measurement has been a hot topic lately, and 2020 really emphasized the need for consultants, agencies, and departments to defend their value, which requires going beyond vanity metrics.
Most PR tools will provide you with a wonderful wealth of data—from how your email outreach performed to how many times you were mentioned last week—and the ability to build sexy reports and media briefs. After that, it’s your responsibility to take the insights the tools provide you and translate them into impact.
Many PR pros are 80% of the way there. The final step is connecting the impact you’ve made through your PR activities to desired business outcomes using language that the C-suite—yours or your client’s—will understand and appreciate. Sales and marketing have an easier time of it. They already talk in that language with revenue and deals lost/won and marketing qualified leads. Their activities connect to the bottom line in obvious ways. You might not be able to connect your activities to the bottom line (at least not yet), but you can connect your activities to reputation, engagement, and awareness, three very important considerations that every company cares about.
PR tools won’t give you special powers. It will always come down to your own skill, instincts, and experience.