Why is personalization at scale important in public relations, and which of the 8,000 martech platforms will deliver your pitch?

By Jim James,

Founder EASTWEST PR and Host of the SPEAK|pr Podcast

All businesses aim to offer personalized information to their customers and the media, but the real challenge is figuring out a way to do that to more than one person at a time. The answer is technology. Technology writer Scott Brinker says the “Second Golden Age of Martech” is driven by three trends (ecosystems, experts, and engineers) and that public relations is no longer just about general relations. Personalization has three broad categories: internal, partners, and external or audiences. Within these audiences, there are individual preferences. Consumers and businesses, in fact all people, have got a choice of what they listen to, what they watch, and what they read, because the devices people use give them ultimate freedom to decide what they receive and when they receive it. 

Today, the attention of consumers, partners, and staff is no longer captive within the same channels as it used to be. This is why the challenge has been personalization, but at scale. It used to be that people all got the same information at scale through traditional broadcast, print, radio, TV, signboards, but now, that’s not the case. So, in order to have a business that is talking to more than one person at a time, the challenge for business owners is to develop messages that are appropriate, appealing, and compelling to many people simultaneously. This is what is called the customer journey. This applies to individuals and organizations, and in PR terms, also to journalists. That means there are people that already understand the company and may be about to do business with it. There may be those who are unaware of the company, signifying the need for a different level of information. Mapping out what this customer journey is a central part of public relations and any sales campaign. If you think about it, there are many parallels between the sales campaign that one would have for consumers or businesses, if you’re in B2B, and what to sell to the media, which is why stories and companies should be compelling enough that journalists would want to invest their time and take the effort to learn, write, and publish or post information about the company to their communities.

Personalization at scale is actually not as hard as it seems

In a 2018 McKinsey report, the authors, Julien Boudet and Kai Vollhardt, talk about a customer data platform with a 360-degree view of the consumer, partner, or any audience group, but companies don’t have the bandwidth nor the capacity to create such a complex system  The report says that personalization at scale, whilst it sounds intimidating, is easier than many marketers think, but one must start with data. People often turn to agencies, because they believe journalists will already have a relationship with the agency. They may well have that, but the dynamism now in the journalism field has changed. The importance now of influencers, not specifically journalists, has meant that it’s a more fragmented and challenging role. Therefore, it’s important to look at how to get the messaging to be relevant to the individual audiences by looking at the data. For instance, when performing media outreach for clients, keeping in mind the digital footprint that the media, the journalist, or the influencer has, these people are publishing often at scale and volume, so find out what they’re writing about and identify patterns. Read articles that the journalist has written, so you can get into alignment between the journalist and their skill levels along with the client’s desire to communicate their message.

Journalists are constantly sharing information about what they’re interested in through what they publish. In terms of media relations, there are trigger events when journalists do things at a particular press center or when they publish a certain story, and those can be tracked, creating opportunities to reach out to them with specific and relevant content. A report by Blue Shift on consumer marketing found that triggers are 497% more effective than batch emails, which are the ones sent without any particular trigger or event. They also found that mobile push triggers are 1,490% more effective than batch push notifications. In other words, if you bought something then received a text saying, “You’ve purchased this item. You may want this,” it’s going to have a much greater impact than a generic SMS.

Personalization at scale requires agility in the organization across functional teams. It’s for companies and clients to recognize who’s going to be the best person to recognize those triggers and understand what the media or the potential partners are interested in. Many clients treat their agency as a distribution service, possibly to help with content creation, but they don’t think of their agency as an integrated part of the team. Marketers these days are often young and in their 30s and are selling to people in their 60s and 70s, and so it creates disparity between the people delivering the message and the people receiving it. One solution to that is understanding which people in the team or organization are closest to the trigger events that they can raise an alarm or create action. The next challenge is doing this at scale. Luckily, EASTEST PR’s Technology Applications Directory for public relations has listed over 100 platforms you can use, and these are available here

Scott Brinker’s 2020 Marketing Technology Landscape with over 8,000 martech platforms

The 2019 edition of Scott Brinker’s Marketing Technology Landscape lists 7,000 marketing technology solutions. In 2020, this list grew by 13.6% to 8,000 martech solutions. That’s everything from PR, sales, management, CRM, online support, and so on. In other words, there is a solution for pretty much every problem you’re facing. The challenge is finding the right one. Do note that as much as technology, data, and the analytics are important, the companies that just go to martech on its own, however, will find that they may need to change their business system to fit their martech solutions, which not every company is willing to do. 

Let Muck Rack help you personalize at scale with journalists

Technology, data, and the analytics are important. The companies that just go to martech on its own, however, will find that they may need to change their business system to fit their martech solutions, which not every company is willing to do. One company in America actually claims to help with the personalization at scale for journalist relationships. It’s a company called Muck Rack, and they have what they call a public relations management platform. Companies like Muck RackCisionPrezly, and Prowly are helping entrepreneurs access a vast amount of information; in their case, 10,000 journalists, which enterpreneurs, otherwise, could never collate on their own. In the case of Muck Rack, the journalists themselves showcase their pitching preferences right on their portfolios. They basically say what kind of stories they’re interested in and how to pitch to them. This saves time and makes it easier for those interested in reaching out to them, because the journalists indicate what stories they’re interested in and want to hear about.

Photo from Muck Rack

Muck Rack claims to be the only media database that offers journalists the ability to control their own public profile. Certainly, while Telum Media and Cision are research-based and while Prowly finds journalists’ contact details by searching the web with AI and bringing back social media profiles, for 10 years, Muck Rack has allowed journalists to state their preferences, such as what time of day they would like to be pitched at, whether they would like to respond typically to a pitch or they don’t, how long they’d like the pitch to be in terms of word count, etc. There are some tools there as well that enable you to share that information with your team, which is great, especially with collaboration being essential. You can work from a unified platform, and you can also store your own data and then share them. 

Muck Rack allows you to send and schedule personalized pitches by customizing the email content for each person, tracking who’s engaged, and managing the follow up. You can create batches for journalists that are profiled both by interest and by style of approach. This is personalization at scale that is the holy grail now in consumer marketing. In public relations, as more and more media are dispersed and fragmented and there is now the unofficial media like influencers and bloggers, it’s impossible to have a relationship with them all, unlike before when there was a limited number of media with a lot of time and the old PR long lunch, which is legendary. There isn’t even time for an espresso anymore. 

With this Second Golden Age of Martech, as Scott Brinker calls it, where there are ecosystems, experts, and citizen engineers, the fourth element could possibly be entrepreneurs, because ecosystems, experts, and engineers don’t have anything to say on their own. They await the content entrepreneurs can share, and it’s the content that’s key. It’s the entrepreneurs’ stories like Park Howell’s model for storification that ultimately are the fuel for the martech engines, and personalization at scale is something entrepreneurs and small business owners can do by using the technology in abundance today.


This article is based on a transcript from my Podcast SPEAK|pr, you can listen here.

Cover Photo from Digital Ready

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