Finding Game Changers: Networking in news/media
August 17, 2015
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In your web travels, I’m sure you’ve scrolled to the bottom of a major blog or a company page, and come across a bunch of badges: “As seen in [media outlet]”. Despite all of the talk about old media’s demise, the big names in news still stand tall today. Brands like the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, CNN News, and BBC all have huge followings online, if not via additional media like television or print.

While fewer and fewer reach for the Sunday paper these days, media is more a part of our lives than ever. The successful don’t just consume the right information, they also know how to produce and distribute effectively through the available channels.

Learning how the media world functions will be a game changer if you are trying to establish credibility and clout.

Content has become more specialized through the explosion of blogging and podcasting. We benefit from that on the whole, but traditional media giants still play a big role, and are valued as credibility indicators in our society (for better or worse). Because of this, features in major publications can lead to “overnight” blow ups in growth for websites and products.

I look at a major press event similarly to getting bumped up to varsity in high school sports. It’s the kind of catalyst that ups your recognition, which raises your confidence, exclusivity, and ability to build relationships, thus growing your status further.

I’d say that social status seeking is probably not the best goal to chase, but it can be a valuable tool for getting your brand, cause, or mission the exposure to thrive. On your deathbed, it won’t matter how cool you were, but in my opinion, a legacy or contribution has the potential to live on into the future.

With that in mind, you are probably wondering how to build relationships with media players, specifically in news and journalism. However, first take a look at how news coverage can contribute to the success of an enterprise online.

Back in May 2012, Snapchat was just a hatchling. Released only nine months earlier, the application had not found yet gone household. Search earlier than May and you won’t find much news coverage devoted to Snapchat whatsoever. However, the New York Times broke an interest piece on the app May 6th, its first high profile piece that I can find. Within 24 hours, the story was picked up by CNET and Forbes, among other big names. Within a week, the likes of The Atlantic, CNBC, TechCrunch, and Daily Mail were covering. From there, the rest was history. The right mix of a useful product, juicy story, and right media attention helped to create a feedback loop that rocketed Snapchat into the limelight as one of the most popular social media apps of the day.

Of course, it’d be irresponsible of me to say that there is a proven cause/effect relationship here – that NYT is solely responsible for the eventual success of Snapchat. Despite the many conflated variables behind this company’s success, I think common sense and a bit of research suggest that press coverage can definitely serve as dry powder for kicking off discussion of and interest in a product or service. Just look at this graph from Google Trends.

google trends graph

 

The time series measures relative popularity of a keyword in Google overtime. It is set up as a 0-100 index, where 100 is the most popular month, compared to all other keyword searches on the web (a reasonable proxy for app traffic). You can see that until May 2012, Snapchat was tracking at ZERO popularity on the index, before its rapid and steady climb to the top in late 2014, when the company had grown to a multibillion dollar valuation! Looking closely, the growth all started in June 2012, on the heels of Snapchat’s initial burst in press coverage.

Starting Up

Enough nibbles from the crudité platter – here’s the meat.

If you want to try generating coverage without hiring a PR agency, become one of the interviewed authorities on a subject, or deepen your network to include well informed and connected people, there are three media figures that you need to be going after:

  • Traditional print and online journalists
  • Bloggers
  • Content producers/Editors

How to make it happen:

Print Journalists

There is still tremendous reach by the traditional press, especially to millennials older.

The first thing you need to do is ponder your product or whom you want to reach. Where does your audience hang out? What are your customers reading? Take these questions and run with them. The better you can define your niche, the easier this process will be. I’d recommend sketching a list of ten local or very specialized publications, and ten large ones that either cater to or attract your audience.

Perhaps you have a blog on fly fishing and a course on tying your own flies. Great examples of specialty publication might be Field and Stream or Fly Fisherman. If you are catering to a local audience, then try for the newspaper or magazine circulations in nearby towns and counties. Even if you are reaching a smaller scale publications, your tailored approach should lead to a higher success rate among them.

As for national circulations or larger syndications, don’t always think Wall Street Journal or Washington post. You can still aim for big operations that are good fits for you. In the case of fly fishing, the right staff at National Geographic or Sports Illustrated will have broad reach, and not at the expense of establishing common ground.

Once you have your twenty, it’s time to find contact information. I’m not going to give you some BS advice to write into the general inquiry address listed on the site – that should be a last resort if you fail to find a better way. However, if and when you do reach out directly, always be respectful of the person’s time, intelligence, and privacy. Spammy emails are ineffective and just plain wrong in my view.

Batch your messages using scripts and formats (which I plan to provide soon), but try to add personal touches to each. A great way to shoot yourself in the foot would be to open with “Hello”, or “To whom it may concern”. I’d use the person’s first name, or Mr./Mrs. ________ unless absolutely prohibited.

Read the journalists previous work and Google them to find out more about their interests and values. Efficiency is great, but take the extra two minutes per email to add personal touches – especially with higher profile people. It will set you apart.

As for finding contact information, try these four things in the following order.

Step 1: Look for an email address or phone number at the bottom of a news story page.

In many publications online, even all the way at the top of the heap, you can find personal email addresses that route straight to the author at the bottom of a news story.

NOTE: this is becoming a bit less common, as more people turn to the internet and clog reporter’s inboxes. I worked closely with reporters at a large media outfit in my first job out of school, and I got to know very well, how high the stack of emails can get.

Many times, the author’s name will be a hyperlink that you can click, which might bring you to an author profile page with their contact information. It could also be a “Contact the Author” button. This exists for mega giants like the Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, and Washington Post.

Some sites have a generic email form that you can use to contact reporters. These include the New York Times and L.A. Times. Instead of giving you the email address outright, you click on an email button, which brings you to a web page through which you can submit a message to the article’s author. I’m not sure if these are screened, but try the following if you want to obtain the email address (only works for Chrome and Firefox browsers):

Right click on the web page or the send button on the email form (I’d try both before quitting). Select the option to “Inspect Element”. This will open up a small window at the bottom of the screen that shows the underlying HTLM/CSS that makes up the web page. It also may contain some javascript. In this window, use {CTRL F} to do a find search, and use “@” as your input. Click through the records if any exist. I was able to find the underlying email address that the form routed to for L.A. Times journalists this way, and I’m sure it works for other outlets. However, some sites have an extra layer of protection like the New York Times that will prohibit this.

If you can’t get any of these to work, move on to the next step.

Step 2: Use a generic email form if available.

As mentioned right above, some sites will have a generic email form when you opt to email the author or editor. This will probably route to their email address, and can be just as effective as step one. The nice thing about having an email address is that you can input it into an excel sheet or CRM (customer relationship management) tool that can make sorting and following up with the right people easy in the future. Still, don’t let that discourage you from using the provided email input box. NOTE: I am not talking about the general site email that is listed on the contact us page.

Step 3: Use social media to contact journalists

In nearly all cases, I’ve found links to follow journalists on social media for online articles, even in the absence of an email address. I’d look for alternatives, your two best being a phone number or twitter. Facebook accounts are usually curated by an outsider, and a less direct model.

If you tweet at a reporter’s handle with a tactical message or a compelling lead for a story, you actually have a reasonable chance of getting a response back. While your message has to be high value/high quality, Twitter is also a quantity game. Popular handles are inundated with messages throughout the day, so it’s likely yours will sometimes be missed. Don’t be bashful about following up once a day for three days if you believe that you have a valuable message. You can also mix up your question or improve upon it if you don’t get an initial response. Don’t be annoying and selfish, but know that the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

Step four: Forage Google for a personal site, blog, or LinkedIn profile

If you are keen on reaching a journalist, don’t rule out a personal website or blog outside of their media affiliation. This is especially true for freelancers and syndicated contributors. A lot of times they promote independently and will have their own avenue for contact outside of the news site. There’s less of a system for this, and you’ll need to weigh how badly you’d like to contact this person against the value of your time.

If all else fails, use a general contact and ask for the author on a news site, or try to get connected through other people in the industry that you successfully reach.

Bloggers

The internet has changed the game in media, as self-production offers greater autonomy over art and information. We no longer live in an era where the producer or publishing house has complete control over the mass distribution of music, news, and education.

There’s been an explosion of blogs and websites that create and distribute information all from a home office or laptop. While the average blog has a small following, the good news is that niche sites have fewer distractions and can interact more freely with their audiences as a function of their reasonable size. Yet, they can still interact with a sizable audience and command a great deal of authority. Niche does not equate to low value – quite the opposite if they (or hopefully you) own the space.

There’s less of a stigma covering a subject outside of the mainstream media. Blogging is no longer strictly a hobby, and some of the top independent contributors make millions each year. Don’t avoid trying these people, as the successful ones are legitimate and great potential contacts for your needs.

Most blogs will have a contact page, and unlike, say, Wired Magazine, you will probably be routed to the site owner or somebody that reports directly to them. There will rarely be a phone number, but you should be able to construct a tidy and focused message. Make sure that you build rapport by telling them what interests you about the site and their work – don’t be afraid to drop a few specifics here. After a sentence, maybe two – move on to what you need to ask them. Most bloggers are time crunched with a day job, product development, or a family – it’s not much different than contacting someone at a traditional company.

If you’ve tried following up, and you are sure that your email is high quality. You might need to go back to the drawing board. Blogs get traffic (a form of currency) through links to their web address, or through comments and ratings on the site and its tools. If the blog is important enough, and you struggle to make contact, try adding valuable comments to their posts, or linking to their site if you have a blog of your own. Then, you can try contacting them again with this ammunition. I’ve heard multiple bloggers say that they respect and favor those who show commitment to their sites, so why not try this.

As with journalists, if you fail to make a direct contact, or you get stuck at a gatekeeper, try to connect directly via social media, especially twitter.

Producers

Unless a content manager is independent (like a blogger), it will be EXTREMELY difficult to reach a producer. The people I’m talking about are those who decide what the top story will be on CNN’s website. Spielberg is famous for dressing up in a suit and sneaking onto movie sets to meet producers and directors so he could break into Hollywood. It’s the same game in print and online for the big hitters.

Not only are they hard to reach and armed with gatekeepers, but they are still getting pitched all the time, which makes it tough to have an impact. People at the big studios, record labels, and publishing houses are not likely to respond to strangers, or even open their emails. Managing editors of monster publications are no different. My suggested strategy would be to talk to people in the industry by using the strategies outlined for bloggers and journalists to build lasting relationships over time. From here, you are more likely to get your chance by way of a warm introduction, which can be magnitudes of order better than a cold contact. I’ll touch on this further in future posts, because it’s that important to networking.

If you are starting from nothing, then work cold as long as you have to, but once you have a few clutch relationships, take care of those geese because they will lay the golden eggs.

Luckily, for news coverage and print media, you can have a ton of success by working with a staff journalist, and convincing them to cover you as part of their beat. If you are looking for an expert contact in the industry as an alternative, you’ll be well off working with these staff writers as well, since senior editors are usually in a managerial role and need to have a higher level view. As your ambitions grow, so will your network, but start at a level where people will listen and you can break in.

Good luck out there, and let me know how you do.