Even the best media relations pros – with well-researched pitches – face the dilemma of no response one time or another.
Did the reporter get the email? Was it lost in the deluge that is the modern reporter’s inbox? Did your big story get topped by even bigger news? Do you follow up? If so, do you call or email? Do you direct message or InMail? Should you pitch a different contact at the same pub? Do you write a new pitch all together?
With a few exceptions, many reporters will say they prefer PR pros didn’t follow up, but then the same reporters will simply not respond. They can’t because if they did, they could spend all day politely declining PR pitches.
At the same time, good PR pros try to balance assurance a pitch was received or even considered, without coming across as pushy or overly aggressive. One little piece of information would be incredibly helpful in deciding the next step: if the email was opened.
This is where NewsAI, an emerging PR software platform, solves a big problem in the media relations process. NewsAI will tell you if your email was opened and if any links were clicked. It’ll give you this information on an individual contact basis, by campaign, or in aggregate, say for example, over the last 30, 60 or 90 days. This is very useful for deciding what to do next and improve your pitches.
While email marketers have had these sort of analytics for years, it has not been adapted for PR, with the nuance required for media relations – and with the simple elegance that matches what NewsAI is providing.
NewsAI Origins and Background
NewsAI really made a positive impression – and I’m no easy grader.
The company was founded by Abhi Agarwal and Julie Pan, who met each other at New York University and later got their company off the ground with the help of an accelerator program called the NYU Summer Launchpad. NewsAI is currently working out of a space called the Varick Street Incubator, an initiative by the New York Economic Development Corporation.
The AI indeed stands for artificial intelligence, but they haven’t quite gotten to that part yet. The plans are, Mr. Agarwal said in an email, twofold: 1) to use AI to develop and maintain an up-to-date media list and 2) for news monitoring.
For now, the platform is, in my view, best serving the function of pitching. It’s that simplicity that I find to be a major strength with tangible value.
The NewsAI Platform
Currently, you are responsible for your own media lists in NewsAI, but the platform does have integrations to third-party data sources to help you out if you have an email address. One of the first things I did was pop my email into the system to see how it worked.
(Note: click any image for higher resolution)
It very quickly returned links to social media profiles, current employer, and ferreted out a link to an article I have previously written and was syndicated by Yahoo. It automatically produced tags for my profile – keys words based on my public history – which provides an at-a-glance look at the topics of interest to me. This has obvious application in media relations: a very quick snapshot of a reporter and his or her interests.
The tabs at the bottom – “All, RSS Only, Tweets Only, Instagram Only” – provide a near-real-time look at content produced. The final tab, “Sent Email,” is where you can do a by name check to see if a reporter has read your pitch and see your overall pitching history.
For example, a reporter I had pitched as an initial test, who had expressed an interest, suddenly went dark. At first, I worried, but when I flipped over to the social media tabs, I noticed he had posted a photo of himself moderating a panel at a conference and had been live tweeting that conference. This quick glance in the NewsAI platform told me he was off at event – and he’d be back in a few days.
How it Works for Big Pitches
Initially, I tried just a few pitches through the platform. Several of the pitches were opened immediately and NewsAI notified me with alert shown nearby (names redacted). It was really interesting to see which reporters read pitches immediately. It was also a chance to test different subject lines, which something I do routinely in pitching anyway, but without the analytics NewAI provides.
As rule of thumb, I rarely send mass pitches, unless I have something truly urgent and need to get it out fast.
As timing would have it, I did indeed have some hard news on which to test. So, I cleaned up a media list in an Excel spreadsheet, mapped the fields to match those in NewsAI, and in less than a minute, the list was rendered in the NewsAI platform. The platform automatically began plugging holes in data – social profiles, tweets, tags, and employers, for example.
It’s important to pause here and note, this step in the review process involved a real risk. A client pitch with big news is a pivotal moment. You screw it up, and you blunder with a reporter, which can have lasting effects, and fail to serve your client or employer. To trust a third party to send out a pitch on my behalf made me really uneasy. The confidence I gained in NewsAI to do this speaks volumes.
With this confidence, I began testing the platform’s capacity to personalize pitches. If you’ve ever used the mail merge function in Word and Excel, or the personalization features of a conventional email marketing tool (i.e. MailChimp uses *|FNAME|*), this works in the same way. For example, you can use the automation to ensure every email address the individual reporter by name – or any other field from the database you choose.
You can see the results of one pitch nearby. Sure, it’s a small list, but one with a ~70% open rate. Quality and relevancy are imperatives in media relations.
The reason the number of total opens is so high is that several contacts forwarded the news. Think about that for a moment: NewsAI was showing me an influencer of influencers doing the influencing as it was happening. That insight certainly shaped my next move.
Even better, NewsAI will aggregate the data over a period of time. This is important because it begins to show you what pitches are working and what aren’t – and measure it at scale.
NewsAI PR Software Pricing
NewAI offers a monthly subscription model with some limitations based on seats and pitches sent. It’s just under $20 per month on the low end, and just over $50 on the high end. There’s a 20% discount for an annual subscription.
The pricing is consistent with that of the typical SaaS or cloud products and it’s reasonable even for small agencies or corporate communications departments. For larger agencies, and in-house teams, it’s a no-brainer buy in my book.
The company does provide a 7-day free trial which you can find by scrolling down a bit on the pricing page. NewsAI does not require a credit card to begin a free trial.
How do Reporters Feel About Being Tracked?
This is something I was worried about initially, but the more I used the platform, the more I realized there was a benefit to the reporters. For those that opened an email and didn’t respond – there’s no need to follow up. Rather than annoy a reporter that has told me through behavior he or she or isn’t interested, I can focus my efforts elsewhere.
Tracking such electronic behavior isn’t as sensitive as it once was. I’ve long used the Google URL builder or Bit.ly to track links and clicks in pitches, but it’s a bit cumbersome to do this, so I usually reserve the effort for major announcements.
It’s worth pointing out too, that the very publications reporters work for, often track readers in very sophisticated ways. There’s Chrome plugin called Ghostery that will show you just how many tracking tools – easily dozens and often more on sites by major publishers.
Finally, this past week, I had a contact request a “read receipt” on an email – and I haven’t seen one of those since 1998.
My point is, tracking isn’t new or controversial. While I do recognize it’s a slippery slope, and the ethics are a worthy discussion, in this case, the impact is harmless and even beneficial to both sides.
Caveats: Not All Rainbows and Unicorns
It would be disingenuous to say everything was perfect with NewsAI. It wasn’t.
I had a fair share of formatting issues and fiddling around with the system to get it to so what I wanted. However, these are relatively minor issues in the grand scheme, especially when compared to the benefit of insight into how well a pitch is performing. And I learned a few hacks that I will pass on to the NewsAI team to consider.
It’s also worth pointing out the company is young and ambitious – the platform does offer other features I haven’t covered here. Most important of all, NewsAI is filling a niche some of the biggest incumbents in the space have neglected. I think NewAI has a considerable advantage in being able to build this product from scratch today, rather than try to modernize an aging product.
Disclosure: NewsAI provided unfettered free access to their product in order to conduct this review. No money traded hands and the company had no editorial influence on this review. I’ve had no prior affiliation with any of the company’s representatives in any capacity whatsoever. I will be very keen to watch the progression of NewsAI.
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