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Your Utility Should be Making a List, Checking it Twice

image credit: Photo 3708018 © Micah Olson | Dreamstime.com
Andy Gotlieb's picture
Editor of a specialty publication, former public relations practitioner Freelancer

I hold 34 years of experience in communications, mostly in journalism, with a decade in public relations, too.  The first 17 years were spent in print journalism, where I covered, at various...

  • Member since 2016
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  • Nov 23, 2022
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When the “Book of Lists” debuted in 1977, it was an instant sensation, as readers checked out lists ranging from the breeds of dogs that bite most often to people suspected of being Jack the Ripper.

In the years since, lists have become extremely popular with the public and media alike.

For the media, lists are always well-read and generate plenty of reader buzz.

For readers, they often generate outrage – real and imagined: “There’s no way ‘Goodfellas’ is a better Mafia movie than ‘The Godfather’” or “Pumpkin pie is superior to apple pie; this list is a fraud.”

So, what do lists have to do with your utility?

If you don’t already have one, you should create a media list that includes all outlets that cover you – as well as the outlets that you want to cover you.

The lists don’t need to be fancy, but a fair amount of information is needed.

Aside from the outlet’s name, web address and general phone number, you should include the names/phone numbers/email addresses/Twitter handles/other social media URLs of any editor that assigns stories, as well as reporters who cover you regularly.

You should also include notes on each outlet. Those notes might mention what kinds of stories the outlet has covered in the past, details on the staff (how/when a reporter likes to be contacted, past history if there have been any issues), publication deadlines and anything else of value.

The more information, the better, as it allows you to target outlets, especially if you can identify potentially friendly journalists. A unique category along the lines of “conversation starters” will help remind you of what might interest a reporter or editor.

Don’t forget to include bloggers and social media reporters on your list. Admittedly, it can be difficult to determine which ones are worth your while, although utilities don’t likely have that large of a following.

Unfortunately, all this list building is a time-consuming process; there’s no way around it. But once the list is built, it’s a resource you use indefinitely – with one caveat.

You need to update the list regularly, especially when it comes to personnel. Media outlets don’t change general phone numbers and addresses too often, but journalists move around a lot.

Case in point: Since I joined my employer in 2016, there have been three editors-in-chief and 16 reporters (on a staff of two to four reporters). As for the other departments of the paper, everyone is gone from the original staff of about 10, with one exception.

If you ever hire interns, this is a perfect task for them; if not, foist it on your lowest-level employee. Every six months or so, they would need to check all the information.

One way to expedite the process is to create a form that can be sent to all sources. The form should contain all the information and simply ask the source if everything is correct. If it is, great. If not, make the corrections they send you.

You’ll also have to do some legwork if some of those emails return as undeliverable; you’ll have to find out who replaced the now-gone journalist. Sites like muckrack.com can help.

Yes, everyone gets busy and up-to-date media lists may not be a top priority, but they’re more important than you think.

Getting coverage is the name of the game. If your media lists are outdated or incomplete, you’re missing opportunities. Remember that media coverage is akin to cold call sales: Your success rate by nature is going to be low. Give your utility the best chance to succeed by maintaining a good list.

Also remember that journalists are human and are adept at spotting sloppy work.

I regularly get emails intended for people who worked at my paper years ago – before I even arrived in some cases.

Since I get more than 200 pitches a day on occasion, individual emails are going to get a limited amount of my time. When someone emails the editor who left in 2014, my antenna tells me this person isn’t professional. That alone may be enough for me to reject a pitch in favor of someone who knows how to check the boxes.

Getting media coverage sometimes is considered an art, but there’s a science to it as well.

Preparation is key to that. By being thoughtful and intentional about your target audience – and identifying which media outlet can reach it -- your odds of crafting a winning pitch that draws coverage can be realized.

Discussions
Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Nov 23, 2022

Really interesting perspective. So often in the past utilities interactions with customers only came for negative reason (bills, outages), but being proactive and being on the mind of customers is now important-- sign up for programs, be a trusted energy advisor, etc. 

Andy Gotlieb's picture
Thank Andy for the Post!
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