When I brought my company’s’s PR function in-house in August of 2018, I realized that I needed a media database.
With hundreds of thousands of reporters, contributors, and bloggers in the market at any given moment, and something close to a 30 percent rate of annual turnover, my focus was on vendors that specialized in maintaining reporter contacts rather than ones that relied on web-scraping to obtain their data.
That requirement led me to Cision, which appeared to be the last and best game in town for this type of database. (Cision had actually acquired and digested two other providers I had worked with in the past, and they seemed to be the last firm that claimed it went through the epic process of contacting reporters to confirm contact details a few times a year.)
The Cision database is fairly complete. If you know who you are looking for, you can usually find their name and contact information there.
It’s a different story for discovery.
Beat designations within Cision seem very rudimentary and “thick”— reporters listed as “Technology,” for instance, might cover “artificial intelligence” or “embedded analytics” or “machine learning” or some combination of the three.
Given the fact that an off-beat pitch can easily result in a communications representative being added to a reporter’s spam list, it’s critical that you know exactly what a reporter is writing about, or risk having no way to contact a reporter ever again.
Cision does have monitoring and search functions built in to the product to cope with the challenge of bloated beat titles, and reporter specialization.
The news monitoring function — alerts which track news published online — is outside of the scope of this review, but I will say it does a fairly good job of giving me a heads-up about coverage.
What’s more, if you want to track coverage by source type against particular names or keywords, Cision monitoring will sometimes produce sources that Google alerts will not, and it will usually beat the alerts by a day or so.
As you might expect, this monitoring will often reveal new reporters covering a beat of interest… although this happens incidentally and accidentally, over a long period of time — not helpful when you need to respond quickly with a reactive pitch opportunity.
For media search, Cision has proved to be more frustrating.
I had cut my teeth in media strategy with a combination of Factiva (now greatly diminished in the number of sources it accesses, unfortunately) and Lexis Nexis (now much more expensive than it was). I learned advanced Boolean search and, with my skills and these platforms, I had a reliable way to get a fairly comprehensive overview of relevant media coverage by any way I wanted to slice and dice it — topic, outlet, subject, etc.
Cision promised that functionality but, without getting too far into the limitations of their archiving, their provider agreements, and their search functionality, I found it a very clunky and inefficient way to search coverage on the fly.
In the end, to find reporters I hadn’t already identified, I was usually left doing it the way that I had before I had contracted with Cision: Google searches.
It was at this point that I ran across TechNews.io.
TechNews.io does a lot of things well but, for me, the most valuable functionality is providing an easy, quick way to see who is writing about a given set of topics in the English-language technology space.
TechNews.io provides a very easy-to-use search interface — maybe a little basic for Boolean search geeks like myself, but one that seems to be very good at intuiting deeper meaning from coverage without requiring more sophisticated search strings.
If you want to see the reporters who cover “IoT” and “neural network,” for instance, you just type in those two terms. The results will sometimes miss a story, but it’s fairly comprehensive, and it almost never produces an off-topic result.
A Reasonably Effective Database
What’s more, TechNews.io provides contact information for most of the reporters in the results it produces.
To be sure, these names are obtained through a web-scrape — something that I had hoped to avoid in my initial search for a media database solution.
In the end, this didn’t prove to be a huge handicap, at least when it came to TechNews.io. Reporter information in TechNews.io is driven by recent coverage, and most reporters now include their current contact information in their stories.
There are unusual instances where reporter contact information is missing entirely, requiring me to go online to search or going back to Cision. But, most of the time, the reporter contact is there, and correct.
The Verdict: Search Wins
The two platforms are not true comparables. Cision is a comprehensive database for every reporter, everywhere, which is updated regularly. It also contains robust monitoring functionality that, while not of use for me, is probably very valuable for larger companies.
TechNews.io, on the other hand covers tech-only media coverage, and reporter names are derived by web scraping that is sometimes out of date, and seldom includes contact information like phone numbers.
That said, finding the right reporters to pitch your story to is the most important part of the media research process — for me at least. In the rare cases where I can’t obtain a reporter’s email address or phone number through TechNews.io, I can usually track down this information on my own with some detective-work.
On the other hand, having a huge, all encompassing database full of names, and not knowing which ones to reach out to, is a much more difficult challenge to cope with.
The bottom line is that, for tech TechNews.io provides a reasonably good database for North America- and UK-based reporters, while providing a VAST improvement over Cision in my ability to identify reporters who might cover fairly esoteric combinations of topics.
The powerful search functionality in TechNews.io has been a game-changer for me — allowing me to produce highly targeted media lists in minutes, which could have taken hours or days with Cision.
Not every PR person has the same needs but, for me, it’s all about search and, for this, TechNews.io is the clear winner versus Cision.