It’s important to recognize how influential bloggers have become in the PR food chain. Journalists typically follow bloggers to spot news and trends for them. When journalists first hear about a new story, they’ll Google it to see what people are saying. If the only one talking about a new product or service is the company promoting it, journalists are less likely to pursue it.
On the flip side, many bloggers are highly motivated to stay ahead of the curve and are quick to break new stories. It’s comparatively easy to get noticed by bloggers via strategically re-tweeting their tweets and by submitting useful comments to their blog posts. To the extent that you care about the same things that a blogger does, and show it by contributing to their impact via your own tweets and blog posts, most bloggers will reciprocate. Then, when they receive news from you that is relevant to their audience, they will Tweet or blog about it. And after your information has been vetted by bloggers, journalists will be more likely to pay attention also. Of course, journalists may have received your message already via the bloggers by the time you contact them directly.
Last week I presented a hybrid social media and PR (public relations) proposal to a prospective client who is rolling out a new online service across the US. Obviously the financial success of this business will depend upon being found by customers, which he believes (and I agree) will depend upon a strong PR component, although I personally think the customer-to-customer viral component will wind up being huge as well.
The term PR as I’m using it here translates to “Reaching out to journalists to encourage them to write about your product, service, or company, which amounts to free advertising but can be much more influential because it isn’t paid for.”
There are two interesting twists to this online service, either one of which makes it more challenging from both a social media and a PR perspective. First, it’s hyperlocal, which is to say, the content delivered by the service is different depending upon where you use it. For this reason it needs to be developed on a city by city basis. (By way of analogy think Yelp, which spread from city to city and accumulated a critical mass of reviews in each city, rather than Hotmail, which could be used as-is all over the world right out of the box.) Because of the time and expense of adapting the service for each locality, he expects to go live in only a handful of U.S. counties per month over the the next year or so, depending upon how fast he can scale. This already presents an interesting PR challenge. But it gets better: this online service isn’t just local, its seasonal. In each city his service is only useful for a month or two each year (think “back to school,” “spring break,” or “holiday shopping” by way of analogy).
The curse of this combination of hyperlocal and seasonal is that, just because this service becomes news in one city – which is to say, it becomes available and valuable to people living there – it isn’t necessarily news anywhere else.
The beauty is that this combination of hyperlocal and seasonal creates a relatively small news window, which in turn drives a sense of immediacy for local bloggers and journalists who learn about the online service. They are under pressure to cover this story quickly. No one else is going to cover it, and if their readers are going to benefit from it they’d better report it soon before the window closes again. (Think about how much reporters value “breaking a story” and “an exclusive”.)
It’s tempting to take a “boil the ocean” approach and attempt to blanket every blogger and every media outlet in each city. But here we’re talking about a large number of cities and a startup PR budget. It makes more sense to cultivate a reputation in each community via a select group of bloggers first, then pitch the big local news outlets. Between the two, all of the other interested bloggers and news outlets should hear about the service and will have the opportunity to add their coverage.
Building social media connections with as many qualified bloggers and journalists as possible also increases the likelihood of getting their attention again during the local service season in subsequent years.
The process I suggested for each city was, beginning with the bloggers, then a week later with the traditional news outlets:
- identify the right people to approach using a combination of search and lists (the expense of soup-to-nuts PR services like Vocus and Cision are unnecessary for this purpose alone, and because their media databases rely on user-contributed information, they are not necessarily reliable for this type of project);
- subscribe to bloggers’ feeds, including Twitter, retweet each author at least once, and attempt to comment on posts on each of the blogs;
- make confirmed contact with each blogger via an exchange of email, blog posts, tweets, or phone calls in an effort to get coverage near the beginning of the service season; and,
- follow up with each blogger just before the end of the local service window in an effort to get a “reminder” mention or a second chance at getting full coverage.
While this online service may be tempted to put resources into obtaining national media coverage, like the Wall Street Journal, the Today Show, or Oprah, their story won’t be ripe enough until a larger portion of the audience these outlets serve is covered. And even if it did receive coverage—for example, as a business story (“innovative Seattle startup”)—if most of those exposed to the story were unable to use the service within the next year, the startup would have largely wasted their PR efforts. For these reasons, I recommended approaching national media outlets at a later date.
On the other hand, it will make sense to pitch national trade publications within the sectors covered by the online service if the online service provides a way for interested bloggers and journalists to subscribe to be notified once their city is covered by the service. Follow up stories can be placed with those trade publications as the online service reaches milestones like 25%, 50%, etc., of the percentage of the US population gaining access to the service. For this reason I suggested adding a press page with a subscription option to the online service’s web site.