Media Relations in the Social Age: Pitching Reporters Via LinkedIn PPC

Posted in Paid Social, Public Relations

Posted on July 11th, 2012

In the beginning there was snail mail. Then there was the telephone. The fax machine came along after that, followed by e-mail, which put its clunky predecessor out to pasture. (If you’re still relying on a fax machine, please tell us why in the comments. Seriously. We’d love to know.)

All of these communication channels have been used as mediums to deliver pitches to editors and reporters since the dawn of public relations. Media relations continues to evolve as PR pros debate the merits of pitching via organic social media (there are a number of interesting articles about this, including this Muck Rack post recapping its #muckedup chat on the topic). Here, we’d like to introduce another avenue: Pitching via social PPC. Yep, that’s right. Ads on social networks, particularly LinkedIn, are a great way to seed stories with journalists. Let’s take a closer look.

You might be asking yourself, why in the world would I take out an ad to pitch a reporter when a perfectly good e-mail will do?

  • Pitching or seeding a story through social PPC is a great way to gauge interest. Curiosity piqued by the ad copy, the reporter clicks on the ad, indicating interest in the concept, allowing him or her to view all your material, not just a summary.
  • Ad writing will hone your pitching skills. If you have to write a “pitch” in as few as 75 characters, imagine what the practice will do for your e-mail and phone pitching skills.
  • Social ads are not a disruptive form of pitching. The reporter will only see your ad when using that particular social channel, which means he/she is probably not on deadline (if they are, they can ignore the ad). In fact, they may be searching for their next story or looking for a source.

Are there downsides? Of course.

  • You might not get an immediate response. For that matter, you might not get any response at all. But that doesn’t mean you can’t then reach out via traditional methods.
  • It costs money. If you’re paying for clicks, however, and using the platform to micro-target reporters at a single publication, your costs will be extremely low. Compare a ~$3 click to the several hundred dollars you’d pay for a press release distribution service. And remember, that click is a sign of interest.
  • Then there’s the question of whether this is a slimy method to pitch a reporter. Many will argue that it is, and reporters will no doubt bemoan the state of social ads if this method becomes a tool of the spray-and-pray crowd. That’s why we’re preaching that you do it responsibly. Avoid the hard pitch. Only offer irresistible material.

OK, enough of the theoretical. Let’s get to the practical. LinkedIn’s defined job title targeting makes it, in our opinion, the best platform through which to micro-target ads to reporters. Using a combination of job title and either company or group targeting parameters, you can direct an ad to a reporter at a specific publication or a group of reporters.

Want to get in front of the eyeballs of some of the most influential tech reporters, such as David Pogue? Try this (better make that ad DAMN good!):


How about travel editors at the nation’s top newspapers? Have a look:


You can even target trade pubs. Keep in mind that many of these pubs won’t be listed as a company; the publisher often gets that billing. Get creative and look for groups that have been established for or by the specific publication:


The job titles in the previous images were just a very small sample of the range of editorial staff you can target. Take a look at this inventory!

Editor Titles


Reporter Titles


Producer Titles


Other Titles


Pretty wild, huh? Ready to try it? Let us offer some pointers.

  1. Avoid the hard pitch like the plague. Write your headline and copy so it doesn’t read like a pitch, but rather something the reporter can’t help but click on. Give ‘em a story, not a please-write-about-my-company plea.
  2. Don’t worry about impressions—expect low CTR. If you get zero clicks, chances are the material wasn’t interesting enough. Consider the campaign free branding. And don’t forget, you can always follow up with a traditional pitch if you’re certain of the material’s newsworthiness. (You may want to avoid mentioning the ad in your follow-up. It’ll sound creepy.)
  3. As in all PPC ads, use emotional, zoomed-in images (faces work well) and colors that distinguish the ad from the background.
  4. Create different ads and rotate the variations. This is a great way to test different messages or approaches to the story.

So there you have it. Give it a shot and let us know how it goes.

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  • Patrick Garmoe

    Thanks for this post Lindsay. I heard your presentation at Zenith on this. Now I have the data you shared. Any time you can get in front of a reporter in a non-irritating way, that’s a tactic worth knowing!



  • Lindsay Schleisman

    Hey Patrick, thanks for stopping by. Being helpful, not irritating, is definitely the key to media relations. By the way, I’m happy to send the deck from Zenith if you’d like it. Pop me an e-mail or Tweet (@lindsaylorraine) with your e-mail address and I’ll send it over. Thanks again!

  • Frank Strong

    It’s very interesting and creative. The trouble I see is that the adds go to several reporters — no one wants to write about the same thing. I do like the idea of being able to test out pitches like that.

  • Lindsay Schleisman

    Thanks, Frank. You can limit your ad targeting to just one publication, as in the New York Times example above. As for pitching multiple pubs, we’ve seen it work, particularly if it’s a truly newsworthy story, if the outlets aren’t directly competing, and in some cases, when you’re pitching different outlet types (e.g. daily newspaper, broadcast, blog). In addition, as soon as a target outlet picks up the story, you can turn your ads off, so it works on a first-come first-served basis.

  • Kaitlyn

    Thanks for your post, Lindsay. One question I have is about the first option you mentioned, zeroing in on 1 specific user. As far as I can tell, the settings will not allow you to create an ad where the “Estimated Target Audience” is less than 1,000. Would you be able to elaborate on this a bit more?

  • Lindsay Schleisman

    Hey Kaitlyn, good question. It is possible to‪ target people on LinkedIn in segments smaller than 1,000; you just can’t see how many there are.‬ LinkedIn does this because it would be too easy to correlate micro PPC segments with who they actually are by advanced organic search internal discovery. The workaround to figure out your target audience size is to add in other companies, groups and/or titles until your estimated target audience is more than 1,000. Then remove your original targeting parameter and keep an eye on how much the audience size decreases. The difference is your original target audience size. ‪LinkedIn does sometimes say that the group is too small, but they don’t reveal what this low threshold trigger is, so in some cases, it might not be possible to drill down to 1 specific user. Hope that helps!‬

  • Elena

    Hi –

    Interesting idea, but it appears to me that none of the examples that you gave (i.e. David Pogue, Travel Editors or Chemical Engineering Magazine) would actually work, because LinkedIn prevents you from progressing beyond the targeting step unless you have more than 1000 targets. Have you successfully placed any of these ads?

  • Lindsay Schleisman

    Hi Elena, it is possible to target audiences smaller than 1,000, and yes, we have placed ads that target fewer than 1,000 people. The examples were only meant to spark ideas, and I thank you for actually testing these segments. You’re right. All of them are too small to advance beyond targeting because they’re below LinkedIn’s mystery low-threshold trigger. Playing around with segments by adding additional job titles or publications can make it work. Thanks for calling us out on that!