PetSmart’s CSR program, PetSmart for Patriots, supports wounded veterans by arranging for them to spend quality time with dogs, which helps lift their spirits. New York-based Finn Partners is tasked with helping promote the program. During the last few years, Christina Saull, PetSmart’s account manager, has communicated via social media with Jake Tapper, anchor of CNN’s The Lead, who regularly tweets about veterans’ issues. So, in February, when PetSmart announced that it was teaming with Canine Companions to launch a nationwide effort to provide dogs for veterans in need, free of charge, the account manager reached out to CNN. She tweeted to Tapper about the program; he tweeted back.
This led Saull to introduce herself via Twitter DM. That sparked a telephone conversation with a CNN producer. A story about the partnership ran on The Lead soon after Saull pitched the story.
“Christina developed the relationship over the past few years because [Tapper] had a high relevance, meaning he used a lot of our target keywords and terms related to veterans issues,” said Barry Reicherter, partner, Digital Insights, at Finn Partners. “So Christina could leverage that relationship when we had something specific to say.”
Finn’s PR effort, which began with Twitter, reflects the growing nexus between media relations and social media.
Social channels, which are commanding increasing marketing dollars, offer PR execs multiple ways to start a conversation with reporters and build a rapport on behalf of their companies and clients.
The above example made use of social channels, but ultimately it worked because the PR pro did her homework and built a relationship patiently. It could have worked using traditional media, but seems more natural using social.
While pitching reporters via social channels bears many similarities to traditional methods of media relations—knowing whom you’re pitching and exactly what he or she covers—there are subtle differences.
Cultivating relationships with media using traditional channels often entails one-way communication and seems formal: ‘Did you read the email?’ ‘Can I set up an interview for you with the new CFO?’ Social channels are more collaborative and seem less formal.
When Unify in December rolled out a Flipboard focused on new ways to work, the company’s PR agency, Eastwick, reached out to journalists and influencers on social media to raise the visibility for Unify and curate articles about the future of the workplace.
“We wanted to let reporters and editorial executives know about the New Way to Work digital magazine powered by Unify and asked if they would share noteworthy content via this channel,” said Sahana Jayaraman, head of digital and content marketing at Eastwick, who also frequently hosts Twitter Chats related to content marketing. “If you have interesting and good content, you open up the door to new relationships with influencers”
Barbara Bates, CEO of Eastwick, recommended three tips for enhancing media relations via social media:
1. Give before you take. Don’t pitch immediately. Follow what a reporter is writing about so when you’re ready to connect, the journalist knows you have been paying attention.
2. Engage authentically. This is a variation on #1 above. Be selective about whom you approach via social channels and personalize the message. Don’t get stuck in pitch mode.
3. Be human. Building media relations is not a zero-sum game. Reach out to reporters about articles you may have had nothing to do with, but remind them how you can add to the conversation and/or coverage.
To be successful using social media as a media relations tool requires a different calculus from dealing with the media through traditional channels, said Jeff Joseph, senior VP, communications and strategic relationships at the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA).
“You’re not just pushing out releases, white papers and links,” he said. “You’re presenting your brand in a different way, not as a monolithic corporation but as an approachable entity with something interesting and of value to say.”
For example, CEA was looking for a novel way to let the media know that Sony President-CEO Kazuo Hirai would be a keynoter at the 2014 International CES.
To do this, CEA’s PR team produced a series of videos with each progressively spelling out the word “Sony” using various Sony product parts.
“It was a way for us to break away from our normal tactic of simply issuing a press release and create some energy and anticipation for a key announcement,” Joseph said.
As more and more relationships develop through social networks, PR pros will have to find new ways to measure those relationships. Does media engagement via Twitter or Instagram lead to better visibility in your space? “Everybody has a different system,” Finn’s Reicherter said, “but you need a system to develop the muscle memory.”
Sidebar: How to Tailor a Media Pitch for Twitter
There are several methods at our disposal to inform journalists about organizational issues. Social media, of course, is fast becoming a key consideration for us and many other groups. For example, we used Twitter to position a 2014 Mayoral Candidate Forum sponsored by AARP DC. Our hook: After refusing to participate in other debates, the top three mayoral candidates agreed to appear at the AARP DC State Office event. Instead of the traditional back and forth/point-counterpoint debate, the forum allowed the three candidates a 30-minute slot to respond to all of AARP DC’s questions, which focused on issues that older District residents care about.
Here are a few tips on how to pitch the media via Twitter:
• Write a media advisory in a ‘Who, What, Where, Why’ format so editors can easily determine whether it’s worth covering. Post the advisory on your website’s newsroom or blog, and include the URL in your tweet.
• Include relevant handles (a Twitter ID, leading with @) and hashtags in your tweet to provide easy tracking and evaluation. For example, the hashtag for the AARP DC mayoral forum was #AARPDCVote.
• When leading a tweet with a handle (a Twitter ID), remember to precede the handle with a period. Without the period in front of the handle, that tweet is received as a direct message. The objective, though, is to ensure that as many Twitter users as possible see the tweet. Here’s an example of the correct way to lead with a handle:.@WashTimes DC Mayoral Candidate Forum on October 9 at 6:30 pm presented by @AARPDC #AARPDCVotehttp://bit.ly/1t1BkIF.
The Twitter pitch resulted in two broadcast stories prior to the mayoral debate. Seven reporters attended the mayoral forum, with post-event coverage running in The Washington Post. Since reporters follow each other, our Twitter pitch also resulted in ten new reporters who now follow AARP DC.
Brenda Siler, associate state director-communications at AARP, wrote this article. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared in the March 9, 2015 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.