When most people hear the term carpet bombing, they think of World War II or Vietnam. I think of my email inbox.
Like most journalists, I am the not-so-lucky recipient of a half-dozen or more carpet-bombed PR messages every day: press releases that were sent out to a mailing list of thousands of journalists, most of whom will never even bother opening the email. I certainly never open them, because I find that the vast majority of them are stories that I would never cover, and sometimes even stories that I can’t cover.
I work for an Asia-focused tech blog, and I sometimes get pitches about American ice cream companies. That’s a waste of my time, but if you’re the ice cream company owner, you’ve got a bigger problem: it’s a waste of your money.
Do not carpet bomb
Carpet bomb PR usually happens because there are firms out there that compile massive databases of journalists’ emails. In some cases, companies buy access to these lists themselves. Other times, it’s a third-party PR firm they’ve hired that’s making use of the lists. But either way, it’s a waste of money: carpet bomb PR is inefficient and generally also ineffective.
Think about it this way: if you were looking to find a job, which of these approaches do you think would be more effective:
- Compiling a short list of jobs you’re qualified for and applying to each of them with a unique cover letter and tailored-for-the-job resume.
- Mailing your standard resume to 5,000 different companies that have advertised job openings of any kind over the past year.
Obviously the first one, right? You want to take exactly that same kind of approach when finding a media outlet to cover your company’s story.
Do it on easy mode
I’m going to go into a lot more detail below, but the quick-and-dirty way to find the right outlet for your company is pretty simple: who’s covering your competitors? If your local town paper was interested in a story about the pizza shop down the street, chances are they’ll be a good target for a story about your pizza shop, too.
But let’s say you don’t have any direct competitors, or your competitors haven’t gotten coverage, or there’s some other reason this won’t work for you. Then you’ve got to dig a little deeper.
Step 1: What audience are you trying to reach?
The first thing you’ll need to consider to properly target your story is what audience you’re trying to reach.
In most cases, you probably want the story to be read by your customers—or more precisely, potential new customers. Who are potential new customers? You should already know your business’s target demographics, so consider where people in your demos are likely to be getting their news, especially news that relates to your industry.
Your target may not be your customers, though. Perhaps you’re looking for industry recognition and you want to reach an audience of peers in your industry. Perhaps you’re hoping to attract an investor, and you want to reach an audience of high-earning venture capitalist types. Needless to say, the media outlets that cater to your customers might be wildly different from the outlets that cater to investors in your industry, so knowing your target audience is important.
Step 2: What media outlets cater to that audience?
Once you know who you want to read your company’s story, you’ve got to figure out what media outlets cover that kind of thing. Google is your friend here, but don’t overthink it: you can also just ask. Ask your customers what newspapers and magazines they read. Ask your existing investors where they find interesting stories on new startups. Ask peers in the industry what kinds of trade publications they read. Whoever your target audience is, ask what they read.
That and Google will probably give you a decent list of media outlets. From there, you’ll want to whittle it down even further. First, look at each outlet to see what geographic areas and industries they cover to ensure that your company is relevant. Then you’ll want to do some more filtering to ensure the outlets you target have a decent-sized readership. If it’s a print newspaper or magazine, its circulation numbers may be publicly available on the web. If it’s a website, you can use a services like Alexa or Compete.com (US only) to estimate the traffic the site gets. Online traffic estimations are far from perfect, but they can at least let you know whether you’re in the right ballpark.
Step 3: What specific reporters have shown interest in your industry?
Once you’ve chosen a target media outlet (or maybe a few), the next step is to find specific reporters who’ve covered stories like yours in the past. You should avoid sending pitches to generic editorial emails for a few reasons:
When everybody gets an email, no one particular person feels obliged to respond. Sending it to a specific person lets them know that it is them that you’re hoping for a response from.
Different reporters have different specialties and interests. If your bitcoin-related pitch goes to a generic editorial email and gets read by an editor who doesn’t understand bitcoin, you could be out of luck. Sending it to a reporter you know frequently covers bitcoin helps ensure you’ve got an audience that understands and is interested in the content of your story.
Finding the right reporter is generally pretty easy: just browse the archives of that outlet’s coverage of your industry and see which names keep popping up. If you started an Italian restaurant and you’re looking to get a review in your city’s paper, for example, look at who wrote the reviews of other Italian restaurants in the area. Chances are that person is going to be interested in your restaurant and knowledgeable enough to write about it.
Step 4: Pull the trigger
Once you’ve got a few ideal journalist targets in mind, you can send them your pitch. Just like applying for a job, you can start with email, but maybe reach out with a phone call if you don’t hear back within a reasonable time frame. And just like applying for a job, you should cater your pitch to your audience. Don’t lie (“I’m a big fan of your work!”) and don’t go overboard, but a line or two that lets the journalist know you’re not carpet bombing and really have a story that’s relevant to *them* is always good.
Be polite and friendly, and if you’ve done your targeting right and you’ve got a compelling story, you should have a great chance of getting the coverage that you’re after.