Two New Tools of the Trade

As part of New York’s first (and hopefully annual) Social Media Week, I had the pleasure of sitting on a panel titled “When Social Media Becomes Unsociable” alongside some of the movers & shakers driving the PR (r)evolution. David Bradfield, who heads Fleishman Hillard’s digital team, moderated from his company’s New York offices where some 90 socially networked people turned out just days after the organizers first tweeted the event. The webcast can be found here.

When David asked me to participate, I wasn’t sure what to make of the program’s title. What did he mean by “unsociable?” Was he referring to Burger King’s recent Facebook promotion wherein FB’ers received a coupon for a free Whopper if they agreed to drop ten friends? (BK then snarkily alerted those discarded friends why they were dropped.) Or maybe it had to do with some gas-guzzling car brand’s efforts to solicit user-generated advertising, only to regret it after consumers creatively trashed its SUV?

Rather, the crux of the conversation revolved around bloggers, and specifically bloggers who say bad things about a company or its products. Now this phenomenon is a hot topic nowadays, but the notion of journalists bad-mouthing your company is as old as PR itself. In fact, capturing what’s being said about your company, and engaging those who said it – with the hope of mollifying them – is actually a long-standing PR function. In my mind, engaging bloggers isn’t really “social media” (as compared to, let’s say, creating and search-optimizing one’s own content).

The technology to listen to and analyze “the conversation” across the social graph is hitting its stride. That day on the dais were representatives from Radian6, Converseon and The Advance Guard – all of which offer sophisticated tools for accomplishing this important task. Still, the next logical step in the process – influencing/engaging journalists -- remains relatively unchanged, even though the number and nature of those journalists clearly have.

Truth be told: media relations continues to thrive as a core PR competency. Clients measure their agencies by their ability to build a presence for their POVs and products in the media ecosystem, with the goal of spurring action. The process is simple: develop a story angle or hook, identify the right journalists, bloggers or online communities, and then reach out to secure editorial interest or spark a conversation. Again, this paradigm hasn’t changed much, though the advent of email and with it, the ability to mass-disseminate one’s story “pitch” has prompted big time headaches for the profession.

Of course, I’m talking about the Chris Anderson debacle and the plague of PR spam that floods journalists’ inboxes. You no doubt remember when the fed-up Wired editor published the email addresses of all those PR people who flamed him with misguided or ill-conceived story ideas, effectively blacklisting them from working with the publication.

The problem mostly stems from the fact that media targeting, i.e., the way in which PR people identify the “right” journalists, hasn’t kept up with the times. We still use job titles or reporting beats to search a media database for names and contact info. Yet, titles like technology, food or health editor reveal little about what truly interests the journalist.

This month, a couple of promising new PR tools debuted to help correct this shortcoming in the media targeting process. BuzzGain lets users do a deep dive on journalists and bloggers in order to make an informed decision on whether the journalist is really apropos for the pitch. “Listen, Learn and Engage” is the application’s mantra. Mukund Mohan and Brian Solis co-developed BuzzGain. I played advisory role.

The second tool, for which I served as co-developer, is aptly named MatchPoint. It is a patent-pending search application that identifies the “right” journalists based on their actual body of work going back six months. The engine’s adjustable algorithm spiders a database of 3 million articles from 11,000 print sources, 25,000 websites and 10,000 weblogs to produce a ranking of journalists whose editorial history most closely matches the search query (e.g., news release, pitch letter or keywords).

If our industry continues to be measured by its ability to build bigger media footprints through the engagement of editorial decisionmakers and influencers, we must be smarter about how we go about accomplishing this goal. Search technology may have upended the way today’s marketers think and behave, but it also can enhance a perennial, yet vital PR function to deliver better (e.g., less spammy) results.

Peter Himler
Flatiron Communications LLC
Co-developer, MatchPoint
Twitter: PeterHimler