Media Relations in the Age of the Mobile Device

By Ailis Wolf, Van Eperen

media-mobileOn Thursday, Nov. 19, the Professional Development Committee hosted an exciting media panel at the Navy Memorial to discuss what the rise of the mobile device means for the future of media relations campaigns and for the outreach being conducted now by media relations professionals.

The panel consisted of Lisa Stark, national news correspondent for Al Jazeera (@LisaStark); Lenny Bernstein, fitness and health correspondent for The Washington Post (@LennyMBernstein); Eric Lichtblau, justice department correspondent for The New York Times (@EricLichtblau); and Andrea Shalal, defense industry correspondent for Reuters (@andrea_shalal). The panel was moderated by Aaron Cohen, president of Aaron Cohen PR, LLC (@aaroncohenpr).

The panelists shared insights into what the changing digital landscape has meant both for how they work and for the level of their workload, which informs how best to reach them when pitching. They also offered a variety of useful information about the changes going on within their organizations in order provide content optimized for mobile platforms, both phones and tablets.

On Al Jazeera America and what she does, Lisa Stark shared that she loves PR people as they give her a window into items about which she would not know otherwise. But for her, the worst thing is individuals who try to “pull the wool over my eyes.” She said the most important thing to her is that PR professionals are honest. She says, “You want me to be straight with you, and I want you to be straight with me.” Lisa said, and other panelists agreed, that it is important to know the audience of the media outlet you are pitching and know the types of things they cover, particularly when pitching a journalist who has a specific beat. She noted that Al Jazeera America, for example, is focused on covering stories about inequality, social justice, immigration, gender issues, and pioneers. They think of themselves as the “anti-Kardashian” network. They tend to do larger pieces and their pieces run longer than most found on other networks. Their network is also on social media across all platforms and she has been told the big issues for them on social media are gender and race. And unlike some of the other speakers, Lisa said 60 percent of Al Jazeera’s online traffic is from desktop, with 40 percent coming from mobile.

Last month (October), 80 percent of the online traffic for The Washington Post – 51 million out of 66 million – came from mobile, either through phone or tablet. That statistic, reported by Lenny Bernstein, is indicative of a major trend affecting changes at all media outlets with the goal of optimizing online traffic. What changes are being made at the Post that have allowed them to recently beat The New York Times in unique page views? Bernstein reported that the big difference between what is seen on mobile versus on a desktop has to do with design. The Washington Post has a team of people focused on redesigning content to make it shorter, punchier and grabbier to appeal on mobile. Other Washington Post statistics the audience was interested to learn include:

  • Forty percent of mobile users are millennials.
  • The top levels of traffic come from (1) Facebook, (2) Google search, (3) other sites. Direct site visitors fall fourth or fifth when it comes to overall online traffic.
  • Many readers only read through the fourth paragraph of a story.

Bernstein also said he gets 200 emails a day and he does try to read them all. Therefore, it is key that you have a compelling subject line and a short, interesting pitch. You don’t need to put all of the information in your pitch email, just the key points – you can always send additional details later if he contacts you with interest. If you have a health pitch for him, he said not to call unless you know him – just send an email. He is interested in health and medical trends, particularly topics he would have a hard time finding himself.

Eric Lichtblau said about mobile: “It’s all about the delivery.” As with the Post, The New York Times is also seeing a lot of traffic “coming in sideways” – from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other mobile platforms. Only about 20-30 percent of their online traffic comes directly to the website – the rest is all from mobile. He said as the focus shifted to delivery, there was initially pushback from reporters who wondered about why content wasn’t the focus. But the change had to be made to stay competitive as the digital landscape continues to shift. Regarding how to pitch him, he agrees with Bernstein – if you don’t know him, email him. The only exception, of course, is if you have something that would be a page 1 exclusive. Eric also added that while he is not as involved in Twitter, as is the case for many reporters over 40 years old, the younger reporters often do everything on Twitter so PR professionals should do their research. And younger reporters don’t only use Twitter to share their own stories, they use it to track news, competitors and even to find sources for stories.

At Reuters, the world’s largest wire service, reporters are always racing against other newswires, newspapers and all other media to be first to a story so PR professionals need to keep in mind that the pace is incredibly fast. Andrea Shalal told the audience that she gets a daily report showing scores for how fast they were on the daily headlines as compared with other media outlets – down to the millisecond. She said the average length of a Reuters story is 400 words – for PR pros, that means pitches need to be quick, pithy, honest and to the point. The short length also changes what she is able to do with a story, even a really good one.

Across the board, the panelists agreed that a pitch with visuals was better than one without. Even better – if the reporter can bring a photographer or videographer with them to film it themselves. The speakers also agreed that they are all open to an introduction to a good source, given that source is easy to connect with when needed. Also, the speakers said it is fine for a PR pro to sit in on a call with a source that they have coordinated, but they should make the call happen as fast as possible and stay out of the way so as not to clutter up the process.

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