If you haven’t heard of Marie Kondo by now, chances are you are already a super organized human being who doesn’t stare at their closet as if it holds the mysteries of time. Her mega blockbuster how-to book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, offers not just tips on decluttering living spaces, but a Zen kōan on how cleaning can bring about positive change.
At the core of Kondo’s philosophy is letting go of things that do not spark joy in one’s life. PR professionals can probably agree there is one item we constantly revisit, asking if it is truly sparking joy in our daily work—our media lists.
Gone are the days of one list for a PR life cycle. Today’s media move constantly; new beats are born only to die and then rise once again. Media lists require constant care and feeding, and perhaps a little bit of Marie Kondo magic.
Opening the Document is the First Step
When was the last time you looked at a media list when you were not actively pitching a story? I mean really looked at it? The “off news cycle” time is really the best time to evaluate your lists. When we are preparing for active pitching, PR practitioners can sometimes rush to create a list with breadth, but no depth.
Stanton Communications recently presented a webinar on media engagement for the global members of our client, the International Coach Federation. A key point our president Lori Russo made is that three or four carefully identified media contacts are often more valuable than a list of 50 broad beat reporters at the top 50 dailies. By emphasizing quality over quantity, you can form more meaningful relationships with media contacts and get closer to your ultimate goal of landing a story.
Turn the Beat Around
So how do you separate the contacts that spark joy from the ones that don’t? Move beyond “the beat.” Before the 24-hour news cycle, beats were a reliable guide of what a journalist covered. But with the boom in online outlets, niche publications, and changes in culture the beat is less of a surefire indicator you’ve found the right contact. And while media databases are great, they often don’t keep up with staff turnover or emerging multi-beat coverage.
For example, I’m part of the Stanton team that works with the Consumer Technology Association on communicating the benefits and needed policy steps for self-driving cars and driver assistance technology. While news on self-driving cars is everywhere, it covers a wide range of journalists in technology, business, automotive and policy. How do I find the right contacts to reach? By reading a lot. Daily monitoring of key terms related to the industry has uncovered new contacts in unexpected places. For example, who knew that sportswriter Bill Simmon’s new venture, The Ringer, would include a robust tech team covering self-driving cars? Read coverage, a contact’s Twitter feed, or other social media to find keyword words that lead to the right contact.
Spark Joy in Your Connections
Wile E. Coyote and The Roadrunner. The crocodile and the Egyptian Plover. Journalists and PR professionals. All have a tense but symbiotic relationship. How do you transform a name on a spreadsheet into a connection that matters? Talk to your media contacts beyond your pitching. Send them a note about an article they wrote, meet for coffee, and get to know them beyond an email address. Develop a relationship that sparks joy for both of you.
Be sure to include these notes in your list and update your colleagues on relationships in progress to avoid duplicative outreach. You’d be surprised how these connections can blossom. I have a few former contacts from my work in video games who are now covering other forms of technology or have even moved to PR and in-house communications themselves. We’ve stayed in touch to point each other to new sources or provide feedback on ideas (and to even “like” each other’s Instagram photos of pets!).
Once you begin thinking of media list maintenance as less of a chore and more of a means to bring about Marie Kondo’s idea of positive change (i.e., that dream media placement), it will be easier and more valuable to spend time cultivating and organizing it.
Now for that overstuffed junk drawer in your kitchen? You may need more help than I can provide.