A Peek Behind the ...


BuzzFeed has cracked the code on how to attract an audience. This is a media property that regularly generates over 200 billion video views per month and over 50 million unique monthly visitors.

Thanks to BuzzFeed, the listicle has become de rigueur for those charged with owned media and social channels. Of course, it’s the BF algorithm — hey, the data says a story about Donald Trump’s barber would trigger clicks galore — that does the heavy lifting.

Call it storytelling by the numbers.

Still, we pay attention to BuzzFeed and periodically conduct our own experiments like predicting what would happen if the White House poached BF talent to extend its own publishing empire.GovFeed 09-15What often gets lost in viral videos and the deep questions like “what snacks won’t spoil after a year” is the fact that BuzzFeed is a legitimate news media outlet with expanding outposts in Silicon Valley.

Better yet, PR pitches go to real human beings, not the algorithm.

Two of our account professionals attended PRSA’s Inside the Newsroom BuzzFeed panel to obtain the inside scoop from SF Bureau Chief Mat Honan and heads of BuzzFeed’s Buzz and Life departments, Jessica Misener and Nicole Nguyen, respectively.

As for the difference between Buzz and Life, Buzz focuses on technology with a heavy local bent toward San Francisco. Life is where you’ll go to find all the latest tech products.

With that as the backdrop, Hoffman’s Erin Hartwig captured the following highlights from the session.

What is currently piquing your interests?

Mat: Any reporter is always looking for something unique — unique to them and unique to the public. If you or your client are looking to break news or unveil a big product, chances are I’ll want to hear about it. The sweet spot is if that news involves the intersection of technology and people. How does it affect people, how will they interact with it, what are the implications?

Somewhere, there is a small room full of very important people who are making decisions that could effectively reach and impact millions. We want to know about those decisions.

Note: While BuzzFeed can take this humanity thing to an extreme, the general idea of developing content around people, not just technology, is a sound one.

What is BuzzFeed’s relationship with PR?

Mat and Jessica: I know this is always one of the first questions at events like this, but working with PR is vital. Our jobs would be impossible without them, especially when it comes to learning about new products.

The biggest disservice a PR professional can do to himself or herself is to pitch me from some outdated press list they purchased. When I was at Wired, I wrote one Father’s Day Gift Guide that was full of sarcasm. After that, I received hundreds of gift guide pitches all because of that one story even though that wasn’t my beat.

How would you like to be pitched?

Jessica, Mat and Nicole: The worst thing you could do is pitch me a byline or contributed content that is already packaged up. Giving me something that is ready-to-go doesn’t let me do my job as a reporter. Honestly, the less packaging the better — it just makes it less appealing. We have a great data team, so you could pitch us a whole CSV file to see what we can extract and do with it.

If you want to get your pitch noticed, brevity is key. Put as many keywords into the subject line as you can so I know exactly what your pitch is about. If you want to grab my attention even further, put a GIF or picture in the body of your email — that will stand out.Sample GIF 09-15The coffee date pitch is also something that is underutilized. I am always happy to grab coffee if you’re interested in learning more about what my role is, what I’m working on and what I’m looking for in future stories. A coffee date is the best way to cultivate a relationship with a reporter, and I think a personal relationship with a reporter is the best way to get a story covered.

Note: A good tip and one we’re going to try, including the addition of the whole CSV file in the pitch.

Is there anything that you’re just “over?”

Mat and Nicole: In San Francisco, everyone loves their burritos. I would love to be pitched a list that is “The Best Things to Eat in SF that Aren’t Burritos.”

I think that consumers as a whole are over mobile updates, but only from a hardware perspective. Don’t get me wrong, mobile will still continue to be a big trend, but in a different way. For instance, people are becoming less concerned with the latest hardware version of an actual phone. “The dress,” as we saw, could be more interesting and generate more news than a new phone or app.

Any idea what Comcast’s recent investment in BuzzFeed is going to look like?

Mat: We’re not really sure what that’s going to look like yet, but obviously we’re excited. I think the fact that we typically receive 2 billion video views per month is something very intriguing to them.

Can you offer any insight into using BuzzFeed Community as a route for owned content?

Jessica and Nicole: If you want to get your content on BuzzFeed, the best thing you can do is pitch it. Know the appropriate editor to pitch and know what their beat is so you can make sure your pitch is relevant and will resonate with them.

We’ve really grown our BuzzFeed Community department recently and have a lot of editors working there now, and that really feeds BuzzFeed as a whole (editor’s note: Like the sandwich bag art below).

Sandwich Bags 09-15

We noticed a lot of branded content in BuzzFeed Community, and that’s something that we’ve been trying to crack down on. We recently revamped guidelines for contributing to BuzzFeed Community, so if you’re trying to go the route of owned, branded content, that’s something that you will need to pay for.

Note: The final part about BuzzFeed Community revamping guidelines to extract a toll from branded content caught my attention. I wrote about this back in 2013 coining the term “Native PR” (did not catch on). In fact, a follow-up post explained step-by-step how to implement Native PR on BuzzFeed Community.

Obviously, BuzzFeed isn’t for everyone.

If your company or client focuses on, say, semiconductor packaging, I’m guessing BuzzFeed will be a tough sell.

With that said, there’s value in BuzzFeed for everyone in honing their storytelling chops.

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