A New Model for Online Media Relations?

Fortune Small Business (FSB), a spin-off of Fortune Magazine and formerly known as Your Company, is fast becoming a prime source for news and features for and about businesses with 100 employees or fewer. The monthly FSB provides 1.2 million readers with case studies and strategies for growing businesses; its Web site is updated daily. So it’s no surprise that FSB is positioned at the epicenter of much dot-com targeting and finds itself the object of a torrent of PR pitches.

How is an editor to cope with this constant PR pressure? FSB Technology Editor David Lidsky, former senior associate editor at PC Magazine, has developed a novel approach that may signal a new chapter in effective online media relations. His answer, DavidLidsky.com, is a personal Web site that provides the prolific writer/editor an outlet for his personal musings. It’s also an avenue of approach for intrepid PR practitioners.

I accidentally discovered the reference to Lidsky in an article about FSB on Gregory Communications’ Web site in the January issue of PR Technology Reporter while surfing for professional materials (something all PR pros do regularly, I’m certain).

You Don’t Have to Call Me

Clicking over to DavidLidsky.com was a real eye opener. The no-nonsense site goes well beyond its stated purpose — “redefining the vanity Web site because somebody had to do it” — to potentially redefine the optimal PR/journalist online relationship.

Though the site serves two purposes (personal musings first), let us focus on DavidLidsky.com as “a place for public relations professionals to learn what I am up to so you don’t have to call me.”

Lidsky suggests that rather than dial into voice mail, PR folks check out his “pr people here” section for a primer on tech coverage in FSB and “the kinds of things I am working on right now.”

After thoroughly explaining his mission as FSB technology editor and outlining his interests, Lidsky provides two links: “Click here for what I am working on now” and “Click here to propose a meeting.” Therein lie the seeds of Lidsky’s media relations epiphany: “Got an idea? Drop a line.” And, boy, does it work. I sent off an email proposing an interview, and David called me back within minutes.

So let’s go to the Q&A.

The Interview

Stein: Why/when?

Lidsky: The media relations side of the site developed from lots of conversations with PR people about the inevitable question: how best to work together. One said a writer at Mercury News had a site they steered PR to with how-tos, beats, etc. I thought maybe I could have two sections, one for my personal writing and the PR side. About that time I switched from PC Magazine and wanted to let people know what we were doing at FSB. My site launched in January.

Stein: What has been the reaction so far?

Lidsky: I can’t say it has been an unmitigated success, and I do need to begin to promote it again via voice mail and my email signature, but it has resulted in a few stories, although most PR people try to shoehorn their pitches to my needs. I judge by my list of some 80 subscribers [to Lidsky’s free newsletter] and the 40 or so who get my FSB project updates. I try to give priority to those who email me through the Web site in responding and in scheduling meetings, as long as they are on target. To get people to use the site as a resource, you need to reward them for trying to work with you in the best way.

Stein: What is the best way to develop an effective relationship?

Lidsky: Well, I don’t need to hear from you all the time. The best pros are those who contact me every few months and have something useful to offer. They prove themselves by being helpful, knowledgeable. They have a measure of credibility, so the next time, even if it is something I don’t jump on, I will give them the time, and often it turns out you meet someone worthwhile, since these PR people have absorbed what is important to me. Then there are those who tell you how much they want to work with me and then send a personnel announcement. This is a little disappointing.

Stein: How much PR email do you get?

Lidsky: Anywhere from 50 to 100 emails a day through the regular FSB channels. I try to review them all and encourage people to be clear, to put “meeting” in the subject line instead of “news release” or some general introduction. As to regular mail, I try to, but I flat out don’t get to it all. My preferred modes of contact are email and phone.

A Meaningful Relationship

Lidsky has hit upon what could be an effective means of developing and cultivating meaningful online editorial relationships.

Although many publication Web sites include editorial contact lists with varying degrees of specificity (from “news@dot-com” to an individual’s name and email address), Lidsky has taken the initiative to invite PR people to visit his site to learn about his beat and get a glimpse of works in progress (a rare opportunity) while there is still time to suggest an appropriate contribution.

The vanity side of the site will be of particular interest to those who believe, as David Lidsky does, “in the Matt Drudge notion that one day there will be 300 million reporters out there on the Internet, and now I am one of them.”

Until then, email offers a most effective and efficient way to open a meaningful dialogue with the most appropriate journalists. This approach can speed up results while lowering one’s (or the client’s) phone bill and office decibel level. Meanwhile, effective media relations are the same as ever: You need to offer the right idea to the right person at the right time.

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