Data Analysts in the Newsroom: 7 Ways to Adapt Your Media Pitches

Among the topics PR people talk about most at trade events is how media relations has changed. The typical comment is that newsrooms contain fewer reporters who are busy covering more beats than is humanly (or humanely) possible.

Pretty much gone are the days of reporters having time to be able to schedule casual lunches with communicators to chew over the latest trade news. Things are more impersonal now, with brand communicators and PR firms emailing or texting reporters with tips, gossip and press releases.

Those assumptions and more were on the minds of academics Matthew Weber and Allie Kosterich, who embarked on an ambitious study of more than 6,000 professionals toiling in New York City-area newsrooms from 2010-2015, tracking their professional movements during that time.

While their just-released paper for the Tow Center for Digital Journalism found newsroom staffs to be smaller than in earlier years, journalists continued to make up 50% or more of the staffs of the media companies in the study, which included print newspapers, digital-first media operations and television outlets.

The main focus of their study, though, was the infiltration of newsrooms of what they called DAP workers— those with skills in data, analytics and platform-oriented operations. Their data found DAP jobs accounted for an estimated 9% of all positions at media companies in the NYC metro area during 2010-2015. In addition, the share of traditional, non-DAP newsroom jobs decreased 8% at online media companies, 9% at newspapers and 5% in broadcast newsrooms. The researchers’ conclusion: such skills have become “critical” to the day-to-day running of newsrooms.

What does this mean for communicators who are pitching to newsrooms that include data-savvy workers? We asked several media relations specialists.

Show Them the Data

While more data analytics knowledge is present in newsrooms, journalists often need access to usable data, says Brian Reid, managing director, W2O Group. Data may be "hard [for newsroom staff] to find or [it is] locked away," he says. "As PR pros, we often have insight and access to information that media doesn't see. Getting journalists raw data—in addition to some thoughts on where it might point—is a critical service."

Learn the Language

Some of the basics are involved. For example, to pitch effectively, says Jacque Marianno, digital strategies director, American Heart Association – Western states affiliate, communicators must "learn to speak the language of these new DAP-equipped employees. Relationships and story are still key when it comes to pitching, but being able to speak their language will help you build relationships with new publishing stakeholders."

Be Provocative

Dave Lieberson, a senior executive at Finn Partners, concurs. “In addition to being provocative and succinct, today’s media pitches need to reference research—ideally new data—from highly renowned organizations or experts," he says. It's also important "to offer one or more spokespersons to provide additional analysis and perspective” regarding the data.

And when pitching don't dispense with the basics. Amy Rosenberg, managing director, media relations, Hill+Knowlton Strategies, says, "Even in a more data-savvy world, it is essential that your supporting data...helps contextualize your pitch so that reporters can better understand how it impacts their audiences."

Back Up Claims With Data

For Ken Peterson, senior communications strategist, Monterey Bay Aquarium, the presence of newsroom workers who are comfortable with data puts the onus on brand communicators to make data part of their pitches. "Have data available to back up any claims you make about your organization," he says. "As communicators we know that facts matter" when pitching. "You’ll gain credibility with data-savvy reporters" by supporting them with data.

Access National Trend Stories With Data

Peterson also advises communicators to deploy data when pitching large, national trend stories. Data can give the media relations professional a voice in such stories, he says. For example, Monterey Bay Aquarium has made "a concerted effort to appeal to a broad demographic that reflects the changing face of California." When pitching stories, the Aquarium offers data "to show our progress toward achieving that goal, going back more than a decade." The data makes a valuable contribution to stories about how consumer brands are shifting their marketing strategies in the face of demographic changes, he says.

Adds Finn Partners' Lieberson: "Framing a pitch within the context of a larger, research-related trend, backed by data, can be highly effective when trying to break through to reporters who operate in an increasingly competitive and crowded news environment.”

Help Journalists Drive Clicks

Craig Greiwe, head of digital at Rogers & Cowan, comes at the data-infused newsroom via a slightly different route. The presence of data-savvy newsroom staff makes it important for media relations pros to "be able to demonstrate that their story is going to drive clicks," he says. With editors and reports who are comfortable with data, "it's no longer just about the angle or an innovative approach."

Adds Marianno of the American Heart Association, "First, think about SEO. When you’re creating your hook, what about your story will draw readers? How does your story play into trending topics?"

Newsroom employees, Greiwe adds, "are under just as much pressure as e-commerce employees to drive eyeballs and ensure that those eyeballs translate into longer stay times and greater referral traffic." So when pitching, communicators should provide elements "that will drive virality," such as  "social support from individuals with large followings."

Great Storytellers Will Always Rise to the Top

Anthony DeAngelo, director, media relations, at APCO Worldwide, believes the addition of data-knowledgeable newsroom staff is somewhat beside the point as it relates to pitching. Stories are what matter. “No amount of data in the world will ever supersede the ability to tell a rich, compelling story,” he says

Even in a data-rich environment, successful PR professionals will be those who can translate storytelling to the quickly evolving and increasingly data- and visually driven mediums in order to project their message, DeAngelo says. "They’re the ones who will give the new generation of reporter identified in the study the content they’re being asked to deliver.”

Seth Arenstein is editor of PR News. Follow him: @skarenstein