“Where there’s a will (alongside some added guidance) there’s a way,” is a mantra most media professionals — myself included — are working with these days. The ability to cultivate media relationships to garner impactful press coverage has historically been a challenge in and of itself. Now, in the wake of global turmoil, writers and reporters are far and few between. However, identifying current media reps is only half the battle.
When Cision — a trusted media resource for agencies — published its 2020 Global State of the Media Report, our team quickly took to absorbing every bit of information relevant to our specific skillsets. We did the heavy lifting and compiled a shortlist of useful information and expert insight to share in a reader-friendly round-up format (don’t worry, we live for research and often spend our free-time learning in some capacity).
Share What’s Newsworthy
If you look at most stories now, you’ll likely see experts discussing reopening plans. For you, that means you should already be thinking about “back at work” stories. How can companies ensure social distancing in their offices? How has the lockdown changed office culture? What happens if an open business has a sick employee? These are stories relevant in the coming weeks.
However, journalists are realistic about COVID-19 fatigue setting in on audiences, but as this is a fluid situation most audiences still want regular updates, especially on a local level. One journalist mentioned that non-COVID-19 feature readership was also up, so if you have a feel-good local story don’t be afraid to pitch it. Another media rep expressed “I’d love to see more timely/local stories that are NOT about the virus. Even just one a day would be refreshing.” And finally, as one respondent said, “We could all use a little positivity in this crisis.”
Finding the appropriate angle is especially important when pitching at the moment; as each state is handling the crisis differently, many of the respondents are only interested in local news pitches. “Understand yours and our target audience and make sure your story pitch works with our publication’s demographic, area of coverage, and subject matter. Random press releases and generic pitches not tailored to our publication are useless and annoying.” As one respondent said, “Directly tell me in one or two sentences why this is important for the public to know about – not just why it’s important for the company or client.” Make sure you understand a journalist’s current coverage area. Ask yourself: “How does it fit into their world?” Make your announcement/story relevant to them and reposition your strategy and pitch angles when necessary to ensure you’re sharing the most relevant story possible for that outlet’s audience.
Spare the unnecessary details: We’ve all been guilty of oversharing at one point or another. In this specific scenario, remember the adage: “less is more.”
There are a few key components to keep in mind when putting together your pitch structure. For starters, a formal press release is an anchor for many pitches. Any additional information can be shared in the closing section of your release, otherwise: “Releases should state clear objectives so reporters actually understand how we can best leverage or support them.”
The “pitch” itself (ideally formatted as an email) should always be clear and concise. The results from the media were undoubtedly unanimous. Save the casualties for the time being: “We need to know the subject and location. (Stop) wasting prime real estate in the first line saying ‘For Immediate Release.’ Or, ‘I hope this finds you well.’ We need to see what it’s about without having to open it.”
Reach Out Using Preferred Methods
Use email to pitch journalists; unsurprisingly, many media reps are working remotely. No more are the days of a follow-up call to your local newsdesk. When asked, media reps provided their perspective, one of our favorite bits of feedback states “Emails are the least time-consuming option for us. (Brief emails, without elaborate, teaser introductory paragraphs.)”
Practice Strategic Timing
36% of journalists surveyed plan their stories daily or more frequently, while 42% plan a week to a month ahead. Keep these time frames in mind when you’re crafting pitches, especially if you’re planning to follow up (once is enough). Take this media rep’s word for it: “(Be) understanding if it takes days for journalists to get back, follow up if you don’t hear back in a few days – we get buried in emails! (But after the first follow up, a second probably isn’t needed.)”
Remember to also practice patience with your outreach plan. “Journalists are absolutely swamped, so it may take longer than usual to hear back from them,” (Cision, 2020). One surveyee notes: “I still prefer pitches via email; I’m more likely to open them over the weekend, when I’m not getting as many emails.”
Be A Resource
Efficiency is key: Provide all necessary materials for the story, including images and links. Assume that they’re not going to reply back to your email, but that they are going to write a story based on all of the information provided from your email.
Offer experts available for video interviews: This is a huge plus in a time when we’re all on video calls and watching more video on our devices at home. “Email remains key, but noting whether a guest/expert is available for a FaceTime/ Skype video interview is more helpful than ever.”
It is reported that nearly 30% of reporters consider an identified spokesperson as the most trustworthy source for media references to build any given story — comparatively, major wire distributions ranked second (at 21%), outsourced industry experts at third (nearly 20%) followed by a drastic decrease in credibility from 11% and lower across academic, consumer, other relevant outlets, government sources, former and current company staff, and even social media influencers who may have authoritative insight on the brand. As a friendly reminder: “Offer experts related to the news of the day. Don’t try to capitalize on the crisis by promoting clients in distasteful ways.”
View the Bigger Picture. Some media outlets have transitioned entire staff to cover COVID-19 and other types of stories have been put on hold. On average, 33% of reporters file 1-3 stories per week, 31% file over 10 stories a week and 24% file 4-6 per week. Comms professionals must continue researching outlets and journalists before pitching.
With a rapidly evolving news landscape it’s become ever more important to practice the proper (and rather unspoken) etiquette with media of every kind. You wouldn’t ask a love interest out for a date without practicing in the mirror more times than one would like to admit — so consider these tips to help you land that date (or in this case, media relationships and press coverage).
If you’re in the market for more info to strengthen your PR and marketing strategy, feel free to contact us.