With the battle for editorial placement more competitive than ever,
the latest tools to pinpoint journalists and know their pet peeves have
become must-haves for every PR staff. Allen Houston reports.
In today's increasingly fast-paced and competitive business environment,
media relations staffs are under more pressure than ever to get
favorable press coverage for their client or corporation. Making a
successful pitch requires copious amounts of research to pinpoint the
journalist most likely to cover it the best, and, frankly, the clipping
services of old just don't cut it anymore.
Thankfully, the advent of technology has given rise to other
PR firms are turning to software application services that allow them to
delve deeper into the preferences of journalists and thus convey key
messages and establish a brand presence. Big Brother would applaud the
speed with which these tools have evolved since their inception at the
end of the 1980s. Their capabilities to provide journalist bios,
preferences, pet peeves, beats, and other specific information has
become as much a daily part of life to agencies as the internet has.
Much more than news clipping services, these online applications help
agencies prepare contact lists, recognize missed story opportunities,
and send out customized pitches to reporters around the world. They also
help discover trends, tell you how much coverage your rivals are
getting, and evaluate whether coverage is positive or negative.
One of the earliest services was MediaMap, which started out as a PR
agency in 1986. MediaMap quickly changed focus and became known for its
CD-ROM that put background information and other tools to track
journalists into the hands of media-hungry firms.
Ten years later, MediaMap developed into an online software application
that boasts the 20 largest agencies in the world as clients. By
accessing the homepage, users can find journalist bios, work
information, beats covered, pet peeves, and the best way to pitch each
journalist. Using phone interviews, e-mail surveys, and a program called
My Profile, which allows journalists to update their own profiles, the
company has registered more than 200,000 journalists in the
Research tools have the capability to perform very specialized search
functions. For example, using a tool like MediaMap, a user could search
for journalists in a particular city covering a particular beat, and
receive a list of contacts. The user could then customize a press
release so that the journalists on the list receive it through e-mail,
fax, or wire.
MediaMap also allows agencies to check the editorial calendars of print
publications so that they can identify possible story leads. So far, the
application service has collected 100,000 editorial calendars for
"Forward-thinking agencies will use a journalist research tool to help
journalists filter out unwanted pitches," says Peter Granat, senior VP
MediaMap starts at $2,500 per year for a single user.
A similar program is Vocus. This 10-year-old agency started out as
Capital Hill Software, which tracked bills that were passing through
In 1996, the group changed its name to Vocus PR, and three years later
relaunched to include the ability to manage press releases, bios, and
other documents. It also includes a campaign management tool, and an
analyzing function so that agencies can manage many of their activities
in one place.
Vocus includes a database of 300,000 US journalists and 150,000
international journalists for agencies to access. Both LexisNexis and
Dow Jones feed into its software. "We give agencies the information to
target the journalists who are best able to represent their products,"
says Kay Bransford, VP of marketing for Vocus. "But we encourage people
to forge relationships with clients, because blindly pitching is a bad
way to reach journalists. Our product is not a direct marketing
Vocus starts at $5,500 a year, which includes training and
customized software. It also offers an online newsroom service, which
monitors TV channels for mention of a company's name, and gets
information through a closed-caption function.
Both MediaMap and Vocus say the hardest part is making sure they provide
the most up-to-date information on journalists and publications. "The
biggest complaint about research tools is keeping information about the
journalist up to date," says Granat. "What motivates us is making sure
that we have the most accurate information to provide our
Biz360 started a new service two years ago, with the goal of helping
corporate communications teams improve their media efforts. The San
Mateo, CA-based operation pitches directly to Fortune 1,000 companies,
and while it provides basic research tools, it focuses more on the
analytics of campaigns. It does this by analyzing magazines and grabbing
all articles about your product - and your competitors' - and then
checking if the stories are positive or negative.
Users can find information about their competitors and track the amount
of attention they're receiving in the media, helping pinpoint missed
opportunities where stories mention only your competitors. Biz360 also
includes a basic clipping media service, with information about who
writes for what magazine, where the journalist is located, and every
company and person that the journalist has written about. The company
says this is the kind of information that provides a good relationship
with an author. Agencies can target a list of over 8,000 publications.
"PR firms can really drill and find out why this interested the
journalist," says Keith Goldberg, VP of marketing for Biz360.com.
But remember, all the tools in the world cannot replace good
"Technology is great," says Bransford. "But if you pitch to 10
journalists you have a relationship with, then you are going to be more
1. Do learn from your interactions using the journalist research tools
2. Do be careful of the power of these services. You can make a lot of
enemies by misusing the information available to you
3. Do use every bit of information to help you refine pitches
1. Don't blindly send press releases to the wrong contacts
2. Don't be intimidated by the number of services that are provided by
3. Don't fool yourself into thinking that these tools can replace the
importance of making good contacts