1996 was a memorable year for a number of reasons: Betty Ruble debuted as a Flintstones vitamin, Microsoft released Windows NT 4.0, and it was the first time the gigantic 600 page Bacon's Media Directory landed with a thud on my desk.
Charged to book radio interviews for a new client, I scrolled through page after page of TV, radio, and print publication media contacts before rapidly concluding that…I had no idea who to pitch. This isn't to say I was unclear on which radio stations to go after – as it was a very localized story – but within the editorial hierarchy of each media outlet I lacked a clear understanding on whether to call (and at that time fax) the news director, program director, executive producer, guest booker, etc.
Today, I'd wager that if you pop-quizzed junior and mid-level staffers at many PR agencies on what each editorial title means and under what scenarios it is appropriate and most effective to contact each of these individuals, the results would be uninspiring. The good news is this may be changing, but perhaps not for the reason you would expect.
Multiple factors have led to a steady stream of journalists hopping from the newsroom to in-house and agency PR positions. As media outlets lose advertising and, consequently, shed positions, it is natural for journalists to transition to an environment where their ability to develop content and engage in effective “storytelling” proves invaluable. What is also of relevance is that journalists know the in's and out's of the newsroom, and can improve the agency-wide knowledge base when it comes to helping junior and mid-level staffers prepare better, pitch better, and ultimately serve their clients better.
The fact is that the PR professional reaching out to a media outlet will invariably end up with the right media contact, but there are implications to whether this process takes five minutes or two hours, and the possibility that understanding who to pitch can eliminate or reduce the practice of blasting out news to a wide net in a way that may save time, but usually at the expense of results.
This example is just one of several benefits of journalists making their way over to the agency side of the business, and to a shared broader goal of improving journalist-agency relationships through more informed media pitching.
Brian Lustig is a partner at Bluetext, a branding, digital marketing, and strategic communications agency based in Washington DC.