“Target your pitches and press releases to the right reporters at the right media outlets.”  Any PR professional has surely heard this advice at some point in their career, and at some point, despite our better judgment, we’ve all ignored it.

Why?  We ignore this tip because it’s a daunting task; we “don’t have the time” to sort through a massive media list, and reading up on every single journalist would take days and days.  But here’s the truth:  Buy not customizing a pitch or release, we hurt our reputation as well as our client’s, our results, and fuel content for blogs like The Bad Pitch Blog (which is actually one of our favorites, and is on our must-read blog list at 919 Marketing).

So if you aren’t seeing results from your press release or pitch, think about who you’re targeting.  Often, press releases and story ideas get sent out to a massive list of contacts with little to no customization.   When in fact, a best practice is to take the “inch wide, mile deep” approach by culling down your media list to include only those writers, reporters, editors, producers and bloggers most likely to be interested in this particular piece of news.

So, here are some of the techniques I use that I hope will help you narrow your focus.

1. Prioritize your list – by outlet. If you do have a large media list, it’s worth your time to take a few hours prioritizing your media list into three categories: A, B and C. Put your top targets in the A category.  At the very least, make a commitment to always send the A category a custom release or pitch when you contact them.

2. Prioritize your list – for every pitch. Before you send out a story idea, take a few minutes to go through your media list and select only those outlets that would be most interested in this particular piece of news.  Now, only target those outlets with your pitch.

3. Pitch by beat. I try not to reuse media lists for every single press release since it’s unlikely that all the contacts on my master list would care about every story idea I have for a client.  I’ve been most successful when I target writers by matching the subject of a particular story idea with their beat. (For example, my media list for a tech company may include journalists on the technology, business and new product beats. But, if my press release is about the release of a new product, I may exclude the technology and business reporters this time around and only send to new product writers.)   This is one of the easiest, best and surprisingly underutilized techniques.  Many people make one master media list and send every single release to every single contact every single time. Subscribe to RSS feeds. After you identify those writers, blogs and outlets you most need to target, subscribe to their RSS feeds.  (And if it’s a print outlet, by golly, become a subscriber!) This will help you get to know the publication and writers so you have a better idea how to pitch them next time.

4. Interact with them before you pitch them. Once you identify your top priority writers, comment on their stories (not the ones about you or your client).  Use Twitter and even Facebook to connect and learn more about them on a personal and professional level.  The jury is still out at 919 Marketing on pitching reporters via social networks, but one thing holds true – if you’ve never talked to the reporter before, it’s probably best to call or write a personalized email to make an introduction before you pitch them on a social network.

5. Use a newswire service to distribute blanket announcements. If you do have a press release that needs to be distributed to a massive list of media, use a trusted source like PR Newswire or Businesswire to distribute it. If you don’t have room in your budget for these kinds of services, there are lots of free newswires you can use.

6. Do your research. Take those on your “A” list and spend a few minutes Googling those writers. See what stories they’ve published or produced.  Check to see if they have already written about your subject before.  It’s worth the extra time to do this, and when you pitch them and mention that you’re clued in to what they cover, it shows them that you care.

At the end of the day, this profession is really about relationships.  The best PR pros are masters at creating and preserving positive relationships and teaching our clients how to do the same with their customers and other stakeholders.  Working with the media is no different – a positive relationship with a reporter is key to getting good coverage, and the best way to create a good relationship is to operate on the golden rule: treat reporters the way we’d like to be treated.

That begins with a friendly, customized pitch.

What are some of the other ways to start targeting the right people at the right outlets?  Please share in the comments.