30th January 2019 at 10:29

How to pitch what journalists want

If you’ve seen me talk at a conference before or attended one of my training sessions you’ve probably heard me talk in terms of two audiences:

  1. The end audience – the potential customers you’re trying to reach to ultimately convert
  2. The middle audience – the journalists or influencers that will enable you to reach the end audience

We have a rigorous research process when building campaigns to really understand both audiences. One way we research the middle audience is by looking at the content components they cover the most.

I remember at my very first PR internship (too many) years ago now, the first job I’d have to do every day was read all the main newspapers/magazines and report back on any coverage of clients, competitors or key stories they were covering. The idea was to gain more insight into what that paper/magazine covers so that we know what to pitch them for our clients.

Essentially this technique is a bit of a shortcut for doing that without having to read every publication every day. *note I’d recommend still reading the main publications for your niche as often as possible though as this isn’t a complete substitute and won’t give you the all-rounded knowledge reading them does.

The way we do this is by choosing the main publications that we’d like to generate coverage/links in and then seeing which ‘content components’ they cover the most. This then gives us an idea of the types of content components and themes that we’d need to pitch in order to give us the best chance of securing that coverage. If you saw our travel research you’ll already be familiar with this technique.

Because this has proved a popular technique when I’ve run through it in training sessions, I thought it’d also be useful to share here for reference.

Step one: Choose your publications/websites

The first step is to think about which publications or websites you want to gain coverage/links from. You may already have this wish list from your client/boss, or you may need to do research. We use a few tools to do this, one of my favourites being Buzzsumo.

Once you have your list of publications you want to categorise them, so for example in our travel research we did this by:

  • Nationals – national newspaper sites with a specific travel section
  • Lifestyle – lifestyle magazines/websites with a specific travel section
  • Travel – travel specific news/websites

Step two: Choose your content components

Next you need to think about the content components you want to check for. Essentially this is you choosing a hypothesis to test, so for travel I might think that a lot of content is about road trips, bucket lists, locals’ recommendations etc whereas for fitness I might think it would be personal trainers, home workouts etc – you get the picture.

Also include some generic terms such as research, survey etc so that you can see other common content components or rather sources of campaigns.

You may also want to include formats e.g. video, infographic, data visualisations etc so that you can start to understand how to visualise your campaign too.

Step three: Collect your data

Set yourself up an excel sheet that looks something like this:

To find the total number of travel pages we’re simply going to look at the number of pages indexed in the travel section of that site using Google:

So, we put 127,000 into our ‘Total travel pages column.

Next, we add the content component to see how many articles contain that component:

So, we put 54,900 into our ‘Video’ column.

In the percentage column we’re simply inputting the formula to calculate what % of the overall articles contain video:

=(([@Video]/[@[Total travel pages]])*100)

Repeat this for all the content components you’ve decided to look at, for all the sites that you’ve chosen.

*note for sites where you’re just looking at one section (travel) as part of a wider site you need to make sure their articles sit within the same subfolder for this to work. So, with the Telegraph all their travel articles sit at https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/ARTICLE so this works. Some others don’t work in the same way so it’s not as easy to do this research.

Step four: Analyse your data

Once you’ve filled your table in, the next step is to see what that’s telling you. You can try reordering for each site to see which the most popular component for that site is or by component to see which one fairs best on average across all sites.

What I find interesting is looking at whether there any nuances across the categories of sites which is easiest to do as a chart:

So, in this example we see Instagram related travel content overwhelmingly popular for lifestyle sites but not so for nationals.

All this info should help you to understand what you need to include in your campaigns to have the best chance of success.

It’s worth saying that this is by no means completely accurate, but it does give you a good gauge of what different types of publications choose to cover the most and therefore what is most likely to gain you coverage on those publications’ websites.

There’s also someone far smarter than me that can probably automate this whole process rather than it being a manual one. If that’s you then please do shout up!