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Targeting journos through Facebook? Just pick up the phone

By February 29, 2016 Campaigns No Comments

I was surprised to read that marketers are targeting journalists through social media under the guise of media relations. Not surprised that they can do it – but that they feel the need to.

Facebook, for example, allows marketers to target ads to people who work for specific companies or in specific job functions, based on the information they place in their profiles.

The Wall Street Journal discovered that its journalists were being targeted by specific companies, trying to raise awareness of their products by ensuring they appeared whenever they logged onto Facebook.

More companies are utilising this tool, and Facebook enables them to target people who work at a specific paper, be it the The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal or the Financial Times. They can further specify that the ad only appears for those who have designated an interest in news, to ensure they target journalists.

For a cheap sum, they’re pitching a story to journalists about their products. Or are they?

The products chosen for The Wall Street Journal journalists bemused me. We’re not talking big brands, but ads from companies, including Phonesoap and Herbalife, a purveyor of dietary supplements.

What were they hoping to achieve? A journalist may see the product; they may even purchase it when next at the shops if they stumble across it; but they’re not going to extol its benefits in their next story.

So, what’s the point of the ad spend?

Those in favour of the technique believe it’s a good alternative to emails and phone calls to time-poor journalists. They must be confident the produce will sell itself – as there is nobody there to pitch on its behalf.

Take it from me, a specialist in media PR and an ex-journo, anyone who thinks this way is delusional.

There’s a more effective way to communicate with journalists, yet it’s going to require more work (and understanding of the media’s needs) than buying a targeted ad campaign on Facebook.

It involves developing a relationship, and although this may seem old-fashioned, it works.

The media needs stories. There are fewer journalists employed in the media landscape and they are required to produce more content than ever before. Yet, they need stories relevant to their editors and audience.

Journalists will always find time to consider stories of interest. If a journalist won’t use a story idea, then the PR team needs to ask itself why. Is it the wrong audience? Has it been pitched incorrectly?

I was an agricultural journalist in a former life. I didn’t like it when PR companies sent me press releases for the Melbourne Home Show, called relentlessly until I answered my phone, and then asked if I could send a copy of the article “for their files” if I used it.

I did like it when particular PR people would deliver a press release appropriate to my audience, explaining how the product or system could be used to benefit them. They took the time to find out what I would consider and they delivered it, to the benefit of their client.

Targeting journalists in mass emails or by buying ad campaigns on Facebook is dumb and lazy.

Sure, you could have either of these techniques in your arsenal, but don’t rely on them. If your media releases or ad buys aren’t making headlines, don’t blame the media, step back and ask yourself why.

About Stephen Cooke

A former editor of Australia's leading dairy newspaper, Stephen has an inherent understanding of rural industry and the people who work in it. No stranger to deadlines, he is able to surmise an issue from all angles very quickly. As an active member (and former President) of the Rural Press Club of Victoria, Stephen has continued his association with regional media in a significant way.

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