How to Send a PR Pitch That Resonates During a Major News Cycle
The relationship between journalists and marketers can be contentious—something of a media industry West Side Story. Editors are quick to treat brand pitches like pests, sweeping them into the trash after no more than a glance at the subject line. Given that there’s so little tolerance for cold pitches on a calm day (see Twitter for real time examples of marketer-directed rage), it’s no great mystery why you’ll find an even less receptive audience during a blizzard of news.
Securing coverage for your company during the constant barrage of current events isn’t impossible, but it does require a heightened level of self-awareness. Namely, you have to believe what you’re pitching matters right now.
Of course, what matters is relative. But relevance doesn’t have to imply a dire or serious need. A lighthearted story can be time-sensitive—the launch of a restaurant or an upcoming museum exhibit necessitates coverage prior to opening day. Even if a major story dominates homepages and feeds, there are still ways to find an unexpected news peg to strengthen your PR pitch.
Not sure if and how to proceed? Here are a few guidelines to follow.
Adjust your timeline
When you’re dealing with an especially sober news cycle, it’s wise to revisit your original plan. There’s nothing wrong with adjusting the schedule. Doing so will help you avoid coming off as callous or risk getting blocked by an angry writer.
“Often we will advise clients to leave a story for a few days for both reasons of media appetite and also [because] the end-consumer’s head will be full of the awful news,” said Rick Guttridge, owner and managing director of Smoking Gun, a UK PR agency. “We pulled [non time-sensitive] stories when the Manchester Arena bombing happened and again with the London Westminster attack.”
For a concrete deadline, remove anyone from your original contact list who may be on assignment to cover whatever news just broke. The writers and editors remaining may not be the biggest “get” of your dreams, but they should be checking their emails as usual.
“Cable news producers, for example, aren’t going to be interested in hearing your fluffy segment pitch during a natural disaster, mass shooting, or death of a notable figure,” said Brian Hart, founder and president of Flackable, a communications agency representing business and finance clients. “Pitching them anyway in an attempt to stick to a predetermined campaign timeline and strategy, rather than adjusting your timeline, is a disservice to your media counterparts and a bad look for you, along with the brand you’re representing.”
Another option for a time-sensitive PR pitch is to submit a press release to platforms like PR Newswire or the UK-based Press Association. That will get your news public without any awkward conversations. You can’t guarantee coverage with a press release, but at least you’ll have done everything in your control to get a story covered.
Keep to your beat
During an onslaught of news, stick with your optimal audience. Focus on publications with interests that lie squarely in your corner of the universe. Think subject-specific magazines, trade publications, niche sites, or even individual sections within larger outlets. A wedding magazine like Brides isn’t likely to pivot to investigative reporting. A food site like Eater won’t stray far from the kitchen. Even in the days following September 11, the New York Times lifestyle and culture sections ran theater reviews and trend pieces as usual.
“Another strategy is to “target the ‘low hanging fruit,’ such as online blogs or smaller publications,” said Hayley Smith, director of Boxed Out PR, a small agency specializing in lifestyle brands. Good Morning America may be too busy for a segment on a new line of washable craft paints, but a DIY home decor blog or a site meant for new parents will likely consider it a worthy topic.
There’s no definitive answer to whether you should acknowledge bad news in your PR outreach. In the days following the Parkland shooting, for example, Hart only mentioned it to people who were located nearby. Starting an email, regardless of geography, with “I hope you’re okay” or “This can wait until you’re emotionally ready to consider it” can only help.
“Showing them that you are aware of what they’re dealing with goes a long way,” Hart said. “It shows that you’re not robotic, that you’re actually putting thought into the person that you’re pitching.”
Along with the writers and editors who’ll be too busy to differentiate your email from spam, remove contacts from your list who may have a personal connection to the major news story. Checking their respective Twitter feeds and areas of expertise can clue you in to how amenable they’ll be to your email (not to mention whether a natural disaster has destroyed their home or left them without power). In some situations, portfolio clips can tip you off to what issues hit particularly close to home.
Get a jump on the competition
Sometimes the key to standing out is simply to get there first. For major calendar events that you can anticipate, craft a PR pitch plan in advance. Better yet, create a template ready to fill in and send off before your target audience becomes overwhelmed with similar news tie-in ideas. However, when jumping off of a less-than-cheery news peg, be respectful. “You don’t want to seem too opportunistic or giddy because that’s very tone deaf too,” Hart said.
On days when the idea of inbox zero screams sweet relief, just remember: The news may be terrible, but good idea will always be valuable.