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When I started working in public relations more than 20 years ago, my media relations strategy was pretty simplistic and straightforward – and effective. Finding the right journalist to pitch was relatively easy. One would simply open up the latest printed version of the 900-page, 3-inch-thick Bacon’s Media Directory, turn to the page that listed the beat reporters for a particular outlet, pick one, and send a (well-written, tailored) pitch note, often by FAX. Follow up with a phone call, and voila! An interview with the client would be secured later that afternoon.

Okay, maybe it wasn’t that easy, but it was certainly much simpler than it is today.

While digital media directories streamline the task of finding journalists’ contact information, the media relations strategy of finding the most appropriate reporter to pitch has become exponentially more difficult. This is because beat reporters have essentially gone the way of the dodo bird.

Gimme a Beat!

I can think of at least a dozen journalists with whom I work regularly who are reporting on topics today that they have never covered before. Dozens more are working a different beat – or even industry – than they were six months ago. I expect, as newsrooms continue to shrink and budgets get leaner, this trend will continue to impact media relations strategy. (It also doesn’t help that even the digital directories have a hard time keeping up with said changes.)

However, the challenge remains that reporters expect PR professionals to have at least a basic understanding of their current assignment category, what their interests are, and the types of experts they prefer to interview. I get it. But I also know it’s quite the wild goose chase, especially when some reporters switch beats day to day, or their content is hidden behind a paywall.

This is where modern technology is very helpful. In addition to digital directories (which are a good starting point), PR professionals have many tools at their disposal.

Today’s Tools for Media Relations Strategy:

  • Search engines: This might seem like media research 101, but a well-worded Boolean search of the topic you’re pitching can uncover some interesting insights into who is writing about what.
  • Social media: Reporters are increasingly evaluated based on the number of social interactions their stories generate, so a quick check of their LinkedIn, Twitter or Instagram accounts should give an indication of their coverage “zones” – and their interests.
  • The telephone: Unfortunately, this relic of the modern age is often overlooked by today’s media relations professionals. However, if you are respectful of their time, a journalist will usually take a few moments to talk with you about what topics they are currently covering, and when and how they prefer to receive pitch notes. And yes, contrary to popular belief, they DO answer the phone (even when their media directory profiles indicate otherwise).

Soon, we will have assistance from artificial intelligence (AI) – machine learning, data-rich programs dedicated to the hunt for the best outlets and contacts for any given story, but don’t place your bets on the media robots just yet. And even when the technology improves, there simply is no substitute for a high-energy gumshoe – and human – approach to media research.

Use all the tools at your disposal. But remember, the most important tool is still good old-fashioned research. So, lace up those dancing shoes… it’s time to chase the beat (reporters)!

Looking for some additional pointers to strengthen your media relations strategy and overall communications plan? Our guide can help.

Media Relations Strategy: Why You Need to Chase the Beat was last modified: January 8th, 2024 by Stern Strategy Group