Moving the Needle with Targeted Communications


February 18, 2021

By Curley & Pynn

Every communications practitioner dreams of landing the front cover of The New York Times for their organization or client, right? Perhaps. But, in many cases, that type of “prime-time coverage” shouldn’t be the goal. That might sound crazy, but hear me out …

We’re all familiar with the topic of “targeted communications” and its importance to – at the risk of stating the obvious – engaging with your target audience, but this point is so often forgotten when executing a media relations plan. Why is that? I’ve found that the allure of “shiny penny” media outlets (such as the Times or the “TODAY” Show) is strong, especially when looking to score points with the C-suite. But how effective is that “shiny penny” in helping achieve your client’s business objectives and boosting their bottom line?

I don’t raise this question to diminish the importance of broad-reaching national and international media outlets, or the power they can have in augmenting brand awareness. However, you need to consider whether or not such a placement serves your end goal.

So, how can you develop a media relations plan that truly places (and keeps!) targeted communications at the forefront, enhancing your chances at making meaningful connections with the right group of people, rather than simply chasing the largest mass audience potentially available?

Bring it Back to Square One

… or for us at Curley & Pynn, “Question No. 1.” Who are you trying to reach? Really take the time to explore that question and, as time goes on, revisit it.

When our team partnered with UCF RESTORES® – a leading nonprofit specializing in trauma research and clinical care – I had to really challenge myself on this question. As is often the case when digging into new-to-you clients, after learning about what makes UCF RESTORES so unique, I wanted to shout its existence from the proverbial rooftops … to everyone! But, there are only a certain number of hours in the day and dollars in the budget. It’s so important that a company’s time and resources are leveraged most effectively, and it’s on us, as communications professionals, to be good stewards of the resources available to us.

Understanding that UCF RESTORES’ work with Florida’s first responders was a key differentiator for the organization, we set out to expand awareness and support of its services statewide to those in the first responder community, as well as reach the decision-makers who would be key to introducing important mental wellness training to stations across the state. We went to work, identifying top trade media outlets that directly reached our state’s first responders, and, upon establishing those relationships, developing content that focused on the importance of breaking down stigma surrounding mental health, and listing the resources available at no cost to our frontline heroes.

This work led to multiple print features in Florida Fire Service, the official publication of the Florida Fire Chief’s Association – delivered directly to the hands (and stations) of decision-makers across the state. And, the awareness built among the first responder community led to an unsolicited request for our team to support development of the cover feature story for the first-ever issue of FL Firefighter, an annual publication for members of the Florida State Firefighters Association.

Since securing these targeted wins for UCF RESTORES, the organization has established an important partnership with the Florida Firefighters Safety & Health Collaborative, been recognized as a National Center of Excellence for First Responder Behavioral Health and has seen a significant increase in requests for its training sessions.

Would I love to see UCF RESTORES lauded in The New York Times? Sure, I would. But our targeted outreach to media outlets has been critical to advancing and supporting the organization’s growing impact in and service of the first responder community.

Banish the Mass Pitch

Speaking of targeted communications, let’s talk about mass pitches. No consumer enjoys feeling like “just another number.” In the same vein, no journalist or reporter enjoys feeling like just another row on your media list – nor should they. In the same way that we focus on the nitty-gritty details of niche publications in more targeted media outreach, it’s so important to dedicate that same level of attention when working to improve your media relationships … or risk the fallout of mass outreach.

In one of my favorite studies of 2020, Muck Rack and Michael Smart teamed up to produce “A PR Guide to Journalists’ Biggest Pet Peeves.” The report is based on a compilation of 33 months of journalists’ tweets giving feedback on the best (and worst) PR pitches they’ve received. The report is fascinating and extensive, but, near the top, Smart does us the benefit of summing up the collective’s biggest complaint … the receipt of generic pitches that were in no way relevant to the journalists’ outlet, beat or focus area.

No matter the size or focus of a publication, it’s so important to remember that, when you’re pitching a story, you’re reaching out to a real human – one with limited time and a plate full of priorities and projects underway. You are asking them to make room for you and your story. This further underlines the importance of “doing your homework” – really absorbing what the publication’s vision is, what angles are of greatest interest to the journalist in question, and how your proposed story might complement ongoing reporting. At Curley & Pynn, each and every one of our initiatives are based in thorough research, and developing a proper media list is no exception.

For a media relations geek like me, it’s incredibly rewarding to build a relationship with a high-profile journalist, but that can take weeks (or months) to do correctly and respectfully. In our work with UCF RESTORES, we’ve had the pleasure of building strong relationships with reporters for National Public Radio, Healthline, Inverse and more … but cutting through the noise with those outlets took quite a bit more time than our work with in-state, first responder-focused outlets. This, again, points to how important it is that your media relations plan be varied, layered and intentional.

No two companies are alike – each entity has its own, defining mission, vision, values and innovations. So why would we pretend that there’s a singular media outlet that serves as a “one-size-fits-all” solution?

If you’re reaching this point and still on the fence about the importance of prioritizing niche publications in your media mix, let’s reframe it a bit, in the context of a speaking engagement. Would you prefer an engaged audience of a few hundred or thousand people, all eagerly in attendance to absorb every word you have to say? Or would you rather hope that the thousands of people running past you in the street happen to stop and want to learn more about your cause? This can be the (albeit, not to scale) difference between a multipage feature spread in a targeted trade publication versus inclusion in a prestigious outlet’s roundup piece.

Developing and fully executing a well-rounded media relations plan (that keeps a company’s bottom line top-of-mind) can be a challenge … fortunately, you don’t have to go it alone. Learn more about the value self-proclaimed media relations “geeks” like myself can bring to the table and reach out to our team today.

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