A few years ago, Wired magazine editor-in-chief caused a ruckus when he announced he was banning public relations consultants from his email inbox. “I get more than 300 emails a day and my problem isn’t spam, it’s PR people,” Anderson wrote. “Lazy flacks send press releases to the Editor in Chief of Wired because they can’t be bothered to find out who on my staff, if anyone, might actually be interested in what they’re pitching.” And that was only the start of Anderson’s tirade against public relations professionals who keep sloppy, out-of-date lists of press contacts.
“So fair warning: I only want two kinds of email: those from people I know, and those from people who have taken the time to find out what I’m interested in and composed a note meant to appeal to that (I love those emails; indeed, that’s why my email address is public). Everything else gets banned on first abuse.”
Anderson went on to provide his readers with a list of dozens of email addresses that he had banned. Among the banned are public relations representatives from Edelman, PBS affiliate WNET New York, Cisco Systems, Weber Shandwick, and Sony. The comments section on Anderson’s post then exploded. Some people cheered him on, others said he acted immaturely by posting the email addresses, which can easily be harvested by spambots.
The moral of the story is a simple one: Keep your list of press contacts updated and targeted. The question is, how do you go about it?
1.) Target Journalists with Press Releases
Press release services such as eReleases.com — the publisher of PR Fuel — don’t just distribute press releases, they target journalists who have signed up to receive content related to specific topics. This is the easiest way to reach the right press contacts because the journalists actually opted to receive your release.
2.) Subscribe to a Media Database
Companies sell access to a database of journalists. Though these products can be pricey for small public relations shops, one-person organizations, or small businesses, you get your money’s worth because the database of press contacts is constantly updated. This is important because journalists often change beats, jobs, and contact information.
The DIY approach is the most time-consuming way of keeping track of your press contacts, but also the cheapest. I’ve maintained my list of press contacts for years simply by visiting the web sites of potentially beneficial media outlets and then poking around to find the right contact. I also utilize a Google News search on specific topics. When one of those topics shows up in Google’s search, I get an email from Google with links to the story. I then add the journalist to my media list if s/he fits the target profile.
A few years ago, my company sprang for option No. 2, the media database. It was not cheap, but it was a nice way to build an initial list of press contacts. We only used the product for a year, then maintained the list manually. We also use targeted press release distribution to ensure that our press releases are getting into the hands of journalists who actually want them. A combination of options No. 1 and No. 3 is what I suggest for anyone on a budget.
Why is it important to regularly update your list of press contacts? Well, you don’t want to alienate or annoy journalists — or editors like Mr. Anderson — by bombarding them with spam press releases. You also want to ensure that your message is getting through to the people that matter. An outdated list of press contacts is not going to bring you the returns you want.
As for Anderson, he should make sure his own public relations department heeds his advice. When I was a journalist, I received plenty of random email pitches from the firm that represented Wired Magazine. I never complained, just deleted the emails. (For the record: I did bite on one pitch from Wired’s public relations firm, mostly because my editor made me.)
Anderson should also push his peers in the media to make it easier for public relations consultants to contact journalists. Many media web sites do not provide easily accessible contact information for their writers. If the information is there, readers are often in the dark about exactly what beat the journalist covers. This is the perfect time for public relations pros to update their list of press contacts, and for media outlets to update their contact information.
This article, written by Ben Silverman, originally appeared in PR Fuel (http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel), a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (http://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.