PR's New Best Friend: Social-Media-Savvy Journos

A Substantial Following of a Person or News Group Can Make or Break a Story, but Engagement Counts

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Remember that guy who caught Derek Jeter's 3,000th home-run ball, politely gave it back to the Yankee and was showered with gifts that amounted to an unaffordable sales tax? Miller High Life offered to pick up the tab. And though other brands were also capitalizing on the news, the beer brand's coverage might have been the most prominent -- all thanks to one journalist's considerable Twitter following.

Call it new-school PR. High Life was neither the first brand to try to piggyback on the goodwill story, nor is it an official MLB sponsor. But with help from its agency Olson PR, High Life pitched the story to the right person -- CNBC Sports Biz blogger Darren Rovell, who immediately blogged about it but, more important, tweeted the link to his 100,000-plus followers. From the retweets, the news spread to a number of outlets, including

Having to explain to PR clients why they should be more excited about a placement on a blog vs. a print magazine is so yesterday. Today, PR pros are drooling over the journalist or news organization with the most followers on Twitter. In some cases, where a journalist's followers are so substantial they can make or break a story, that might mean reaching out to the individual before giving their media brand a thought.

Stephanie Agresta, exec VP and managing director of social media at Weber Shandwick, said, "People are effectively thinking about media-relations strategy first and foremost from a social perspective, and a piece of that is thinking about journalists and how social media-savvy they are."

She agrees that it's not just a numbers game and that the level of engagement of these widely followed journalists, which includes how many people they're following and how often they're tweeting, says a lot about the potential impact of the content on the reader and the influence of the people who might retweet and cover it. It's about generating that kind of coverage instead of racking up celebrity retweets.

Jamie Stein, director of digital initiatives at PepsiCo, explained that there's no one way to interpret a journalist's huge following, and the company is still trying to figure out how content might be digested differentially if found via Twitter before another outlet.

"Even if we have a reporter with a specific following, the story could be read differently from when someone is reading a magazine. It's weighted differently," she said. "It's a different approach to revealing the news, and we're certainly considering it."

Marian Salzman, CEO at Euro RSCG PR, describes a 9/11 memorial service in Paris by client the French Will Never Forget. The team achieved placements in The New York Times and USA Today, but the "thing clients were most wowed by was the fact that CNN retweeted it," she said. "Somehow, it gives them in their mind hundreds of thousands of custom reaches: personal marketing."

Despite that kind of excitement, she said, "I don't think clients are asking about how many followers a journalist has yet. It's still based on brand names of traditional media."

PR execs also struggle with trying to understand the value in 4,000 retweets vs. an article that only a few people read.

David Weiner, manager of digital media at PepsiCo said: "[A Twitter following] certainly helps to increase our reach but we have not really cracked the nut on how to measure this."

Adds Ms. Salzman, "Are [retweets] just amplifying it, or are people actually engaging? We need a tool to measure this impact. Nobody knows, but we better figure it out fast."

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