The internet and social media have taken journalism from Morning Editions to an explosion of 24/7 active engagement. At this furious pace, it is increasingly difficult for public relations professionals to keep up with who is covering what, when, where, and how. We spoke with Greg Galant, co-founder and CEO of Muck Rack, about how their powerful, easy to use platform makes it easy for PR teams to locate and pitch the appropriate journalists, monitor news, and generate reports to help plan more effective campaigns.
Please tell us a little about your background before founding Muck Rack.
I’ve been an entrepreneur pretty much all my life. At 14, I started my first business doing web development back when websites were the new thing. In 2005, which was the early days of podcasting, I started a podcast called Venture Voice, where I interviewed some awesome entrepreneurs – anyone from the founder of LinkedIn, to the founders of Vanguard Group and Brooklyn Brewery. One of the guys I interviewed was Evan Williams, who founded a company called Odeo, and when that failed, pivoted to Twitter. Thanks to that relationship, I got on Twitter very early on and am actually their first Gregory, so I’m simply @Gregory. That led me to create the Shorty Awards, the largest award recognizing the best of social media.
Seeing all the press coverage we received on social media for the Shorty Awards, gave me the initial idea for Muck Rack – creating a central site where all journalists could be found. It became very popular with over 10,000 requests to be added, and we saw the opportunity to launch a platform for PR people to help them find the right journalists, monitor the news, and build reports. That aspect of Muck Rack was launched about eight years ago, and it’s been off to the races ever since!
So your platform services two sides – Public Relations (PR) professionals and journalists. Starting with the PR side, how is your media database beneficial?
Muck Rack is used by large PR agencies on behalf of clients as well as in house PR departments at Fortune 500 companies and startups. In a way, our media database is like a CRM, but with all the contacts preloaded. Unlike most companies that have different groups of customers, pretty much every PR team needs the contact info for the same group of journalists. The old-school way of finding the right journalist for your promotion was to look up people by their name or beat. Now we’ve created this cutting-edge media database where everything a journalist writes and tweets is indexed so you can search Muck Rack based on what they’re talking about.
How do you keep that index updated?
Firstly, all journalists have the option to make or claim a Muck Rack portfolio, and many do. It’s very popular because journalists love having a portfolio that automatically updates with their latest articles, which, before we can along, was very cumbersome for them to do manually.
We also have an entire team of editors that look out for journalists. We’ve developed a lot of technology and machine learning to identify new bylines in the news. That flags our editors who make sure they are added to the database. So, it’s a big undertaking, but it’s the core of our business, and we do it, so our customers don’t have to.
What is your alert feature?
With our alert feature, you can specify a topic or keyword and have Muck Rack alert you anytime a journalist tweets or writes about that topic. Let’s say you’ve come out with a new vegan meat alternative product. You can specify that any time a journalist writes about one of your competitors or the term “vegan meat alternative” appears, Muck Rack should send you an email. You’ll receive that email alert the moment it happens so you can see which journalist is writing about that topic and where. If your company is ready to get press, it’s an excellent opportunity to ramp up a conversation with that journalist and get them to write about you.
On the flip side, maybe you’re a big brand having a crisis. To be reactive, you’ll want to see which journalists are tweeting or writing about you so you can prepare a statement and know to whom you should send that statement.
Once Muck Rack has helped identify the channel you want to reach out to, how does it help with the personal outreach and the perfect pitch?
We have an entire platform and workflow, so once you locate the journalists you want to reach out to, it’s very easy. You can add all those journalists to your media list and then email that group off a template while at the same time composing a personalized email to each journalist.
A big part of what we’re about is customized one-to-one communications – it’s more respectful of the journalist’s time rather than spamming journalists who would never write about your topic, and a more effective use of your time as well. Also, when you put the work into customizing each email, journalists appreciate it and will be more likely to respond.
So, our workflow does a mail merge like any other email platform, personalizing the basic template, but then it encourages you to further customize each email before sending it. Let’s say you have an email template about a launch event next week. Muck Rack lets you review each email before it goes out so you can see the recipient and choose to personalize it further. Upon review, you may want to add, “Hi, I follow you on Twitter. I saw the article you wrote last week about our industry, and I think this would be a great event for you to attend.” Or “Oh, this one’s going to Ed, so I’ll add – Hey, it was great seeing you for drinks last week would love for you to attend our event.”
How does the PR team’s collaboration operate within Muck Rack?
Muck Rack allows users to create notes on their interactions with journalists and automates logs of those interactions. Let’s say you’re on a 20-person PR team, and you’re thinking of emailing a specific journalist. Within Muck Rack, you would see that a colleague just emailed this journalist yesterday, so you may decide to hold off. Or you’d see that someone else on your team is good friends with that journalist and they grab drinks every month, so you might want to direct your request through that colleague.
This is very valuable because even if someone is on vacation or leaves the team, all the data is stored in your team instance of the CRM within Muck Rack, so you have that institutional knowledge of who on your team knows whom. We even have a feature called Relationship Owner, where you can assign each journalist a member of your team to “own” that relationship. Many PR teams will identify and divide the journalists they know are going to give them a lot of coverage among themselves. So, a five-person team with fifty journalists will assign each person ten journalists that they’re responsible for getting coffee with every quarter, or calling up every now and then, and getting a sense of what their beat is and what they’re doing. This way, you can divide and conquer, and with Muck Rack, you now know who is the one to reach out to that journalist to get the conversation started.
What type of reports does Muck Rack generate to help plan future PR campaigns?
We generate several types of reports showing how much press your client or brand has received over time. Reports can also make comparisons to other brands, so you could see how much media you got over time compared to your top three competitors. If you’re a company with three different products, you can see how much press each product received relative to each other, over time, or an aggregate, etc. You can also weigh it by the unique visitors per month to that publication, how many social shares those articles have received, etc.
Now let’s talk about the journalist’s side. What is involved with journalists creating or building their Muck Rack portfolio?
Since we have already created the portfolios, all a journalist needs to do is log in with their Twitter account and claim theirs. That’s key because many are freelancers, and even those with full-time jobs who have changed jobs over the years, appreciate having all their work listed in one place. There is an option for journalists to fill in more details, upload a more extensive bio, or fill out a questionnaire, further specifying the topics they cover.
But the big thing is that they don’t have to update their portfolio every time they write an article. Even journalists who have spent a lot of time and money setting up a website get busy doing their day job and don’t have the time or inclination to update it every time they publish a story.
Are journalist portfolios free, and can they be shared?
Yes, we’ve made this significant commitment to keep these profile pages free and open so journalists can show them to anybody, not just Muck Rack users. Many journalists link to it in their Twitter bio because it’s an easy way to share their work. The pages also get indexed by Google and have excellent SEO, making it even more valuable.
Aside from the portfolio, we have an entire suite of free tools available to journalists once they get verified in Muck Rack.
What are some of those tools?
Our Who Shared My Link is a very valuable tool. You can plug in an article’s URL, yours or someone else’s, and see how many times it was shared on social media, the unique visitors per month, and through a feature unique to Muck Rack, which other journalists have shared that article.
How do you qualify what is trending?
We have our own algorithm that figures in a whole host of factors such as recency and pinpoints what stories journalists are tweeting about the most. This way, we’re able to identify what’s really picking up steam in the media community, which is often distinct from what’s going on at large.
We include this information in The Muck Rack Daily, our free daily newsletter. We know our readers are aware of the big news stories, so what we tell them is where and what journalists are tweeting and saying about those stories. So, you could follow tens of thousands of journalists to know what they’re thinking about on any given day, or you can subscribe to the Muck Rack Daily and get the media zeitgeist all in one place.
Gail is a Technical Editor and Interviewer for Website Planet. Her first PC was a TRS-80 which required a cassette tape to boot up. Producing websites, emails, and banners combines her love for design, technology, and of course, writing.