Today’s media relations success depends on targeting the right journalist.

The media relations tactics that made you a shining star 10 years ago will make you a fading star today. A few years ago it was reported that PR professionals outnumber journalists 4 to 1*; this gap is twice as wide as it was in 1980. This trend is driven by a number of factors, most significantly the decrease in the number of journalists as the media evolves and an increase in the number of PR pros. In this competitive environment attracting the attention of a journalist is harder than ever; if you aren’t employing new tactics in targeting and engaging journalists in your media relations you may as well stop altogether.

OK, don’t stop your media relations programs, but you should have a look at how well you’ve modified your tactics to compete for journalists’ attention.

To adapt, the PR industry should be focused on how to streamline the processes of building targeted pitch lists and engaging journalists to ensure pitches don’t get lost in the clutter.  This can be done in many ways; several of them are manual, but your best bet is through technology.

A Quick Side Note on Definitions

For the purpose of this post, let’s agree on terminology. Media relations is the art of informing the press of a client/company’s news. Public relations is defined as the much broader umbrella of communications between a company and its public, including but not limited to media relations. Both have become highly tech-focused. If you’re interested in PR as a discipline, check out our latest PR e-book, 5 Steps to Smarter PR Campaigns. Read on for more on media relations and technology.

Technology, Media Relations & Journalists

Targeting the right journalists and engaging them in your pitch content is your key to media relations success, and technology can make it simpler than ever before.

There was a time when I could not imagine pitching via email or Twitter. Like many, I was stuck in my ways and had yet to realize that technology was the future of PR and media relations. There’s no denying that the technology we thought was improbable in the past is now the future of PR; we must always remain open-minded and accepting about how technology will evolve our tactics.

As we look for new ways to connect with journalists, technology becomes our best friend. Journalists are no different from the rest of us; they are equally addicted to technology. Just like you and me, they have found unique ways to harness the power of technology in their jobs. The more journalists use technology and social media in their work, the more we know about them and the better we can focus our media relations efforts.

While the uses of technology in PR efforts overall are endless, when talking about media relations, there are two specific uses that every PR person must employ – targeting and engagement.

Targeting Media Relations with Technology

With the total pool of journalists shrinking and that of PR pros growing, it’s logical to assume that the volume of pitches a journalist receives everyday has grown; and we know that most journalists cover more beats than they did a few years ago. With fewer journalists, each of whom has more work, now more than ever we need to be sure we’re getting the right info to the right person.

To help us target we can go the manual route, relying on old school Rolodexes or spreadsheets. However the more we can automate the quicker and more efficient we can be with our pitches.  Technology, in this case a good media contact database, can be helpful in two key ways:

  • Dynamic Contact Databases: Years ago we used a Rolodex to keep track of media contacts, which involved zero technology. It worked because we didn’t have an automated alternative. Unlike a Rolodex or an Excel spreadsheet, a media contact database easily store lists of contacts, is available on the fly, may be customized to hold personal notes and has direct links to recent articles written by each contact. And best of all, it’s extremely easy to use and someone else maintains the database, adding and making edits to journalists’ profiles as they move from one job to another.
  • Keyword Search for Journalists: All media databases offer you the ability to search for journalists based on the obvious – name, publication, DMA, beat, etc. This is great, but it’s the bare minimum of what you should expect these days. Today I expect software that finds journalists in the same way a search engine would: by keyword. For example, let’s say you are pitching a new iPhone case that your company is launching. Wouldn’t it be amazing to quickly pull a list of reporters who have recently covered iPhone accessories by searching for reporters who have written about the keyword “iPhone case?” It sure beats sorting through endless pages of “technology beat” reporters to find the right person.

The best media relations/PR software can easily facilitate both and both are nearly impossible without use of technology.

Engaging Journalists with Technology

To break through the pitch clutter, PR must engage journalists by creating a dialogue. Media relations should be thought of as conversational, and each pitch should be tailored to the target journalist. In a good conversation, we engage by listening, asking questions and doing our best to inform or offer our point of view  – media relations should be no different.

Conversational engagement can happen on many levels, and technology can help in two key ways:

  • Social Media: Connect with and follow your target journalists on their social channels. Most journalists tweet regularly, keep up to date on LinkedIn and many have blogs or other ways of communicating outside of their publication, website, etc. A social media and/or media contact database can make it easy to find these journalists and keep track of what’s capturing their interest based on what they tweet/post. Many journalists also use social media to research, which opens up an opportunity for you. As you think about content for your work-related social media channels, make sure to share digestible information journalists might find interesting; if you keep it up and build social relationships, journalists may start following you. At this stage you’ll find opportunities to engage journalists in conversation and pitch them story ideas through social media.
  • Tailored Journalist Pitches: As you planned your media outreach strategy you added each journalist to your list for a reason. Use that reason as a way to tailor the pitch to his or her specific interests. Between social media, search engines and media contact databases, there are many ways to learn more about journalist interests and pitch preferences. Research and learn as much as you can about the journalists you pitch and use this information as you tailor your pitches. This process will take a little more time than a mass email blast-style pitch, but in the end, your results will be more substantial.


The shrinking journalist pool is a concern and should not be ignored. Equally alarming, the pool of PR professionals is increasing. The ratio is off and this is impacting the media landscape, journalist workload, the relationships between PR and the media, and much, much more. In this media landscape, journalist targeting and real engagement are more important than ever.  Being armed with this knowledge will give you an edge, if you use it as an opportunity to find ways to break through the pitch clutter.


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