Anyone who has ever spent more than 5 minutes working in the world of PR will almost certainly have had to produce a journalist backgrounder in their time.
This is a document prepared for a client before they meet or are interviewed by a journalist. Although different agencies might tinker at the edges, the basic format has always remained the same – namely:
1. Name, Job title, e-mail, phone number, etc.
2. A brief bio of the journalist eg previous titles worked for, areas of interest, etc.
3. Examples of previous articles – usually the most recent ones, but often, for the sake of completeness, going back over a year or more.
In the past, this has probably ranked as one of the most manual and time consuming tasks undertaken by a PR person (and probably still contributing to the PR industry’s chronic over-servicing issue).
Although the basic contact info would normally be easy to find (though not always), and the bio information would hopefully be reasonably up to date (these days you might consider Wikipedia as a good source of bio info – check these examples for Chris Green at IT Pro and Rory Cellan-Jones at the BBC), the bit that could take ages was compiling previous articles. This would normally take the shape of ploughing back through old press clippings, photocopying the relevant ones, compiling a weighty briefing document, and then reading through it all to try and “synopsise” the content for the benefit of the client.
With print content becoming increasingly replicated on the web (and with more original Internet-only material being generated), the time taken for this task can now be drastically reduced with the help of Googe Advanced Search.
For staff journalists, the task couldn’t be easier. Let’s use the example of Cliff Saran at Computer Weekly (no particular reason to single out Cliff – any staff journalist could be used).
Type “cliff saran” site:www.computerweekly.com into Google – back comes all of Cliff’s articles and blog posts. Want to narrow it down? Use advanced search to look back over the last week, month, etc. Want to search for specfic topics or phrases? Simply add them into the search string.
Now, the PR can spend time analysing the content rather than spending most of the time trying to track down the material in the first place. And it doesn’t cost a penny.
But what about freelance journalists who write for a number of different titles? Again, a similar approach can be used – let’s take Danny Bradbury as an example. Type “danny bradbury” into Google. This will bring back a very broad range of results, but the editorial sites are easy to spot. For example, you can see he has written a piece for The Guardian. Typing “danny bradbury” site:www.guardian.co.uk into Google brings back all the articles he has done for the Guardian. Again, you can use advanced search to narrow down over a time period and/or on specific search phrases.
There are some additional benefits to this approach. You can bookmark specific searches for use in future. Even better, why not use a tool such as Diigo to create lists of saved searches that you can share with colleagues (or anyone else you may find relevant). Why not share with clients and allow them to carry out their own reading and analysis of a journalist’s coverage? If agency and client share and compare their findings it should create a far more accurate picture of what a journalist might be interested in.
In short, a journalist backgrounder can be reduced to a series of web links that take no more than five minutes to create. As opposed to a lengthy tome that is time consuming to produce and doesn’t allow for any kind of interactive analysis.
PRs should now be able to focus on value added analysis rather than data collection. It might even go some way to reducing the over-servicing issue – which is no bad thing.