By Janna Dawson
Public relations professionals know that effective pitching is an art – not a science. With COVID-19 coloring just about every story told since March, it’s more important than ever to understand how the pandemic is impacting media before you reach out with a story idea or a press release. Newsrooms have faced repercussions of the pandemic just like any other business.
Many journalists and staff have been furloughed or laid off, leaving an even smaller team scrambling to cover an ever-changing story. Talk shows have moved forward taping without guests. News anchors are working from home, and traditional production practices have shifted altogether. Before reaching out, remember that COVID-19 is having a personal impact on your media contacts; they are people, too.
Adjusting Your Media Relations Strategy
Just as your other marketing, social media and CSR strategies had to adjust, so should your media relations strategy. Put yourself in a journalist’s shoes and consider:
- What is the media covering?
- How is the global story affecting other beats, from business and tech to lifestyle and family?
- What local impacts and angles might be relevant?
- What other economic, psychological and social impacts might we anticipate the virus having on the public?
If you can’t find any relevance to the coronavirus pandemic, it’s probably not the best time to pitch your story. Reconsider media relations as a tactic in your overall strategy for now. Perhaps social media or a blog might be more appropriate.
If your story is relevant to COVID-19 in some way, keep in mind these pitching principles:
- Remember the role of the media. Journalists are employed to do a job. They’re always on deadline, looking for facts and ways to personalize or humanize a story. They are not your promoter.
- Be a resource, not a sales rep. As you build relationships with journalists, offer to provide more background to help their story. Weave in other stats and include supporting data and industry trends alongside your pitch. The media’s job is to report the news, not to promote yours, so make it your mission to provide as much helpful information as you can to help them accomplish theirs. At the end of the day, you are helping journalists write a well rounded story, so position your brand or client within a larger context, and sometimes, if you’re lucky, your brand or client may emerge as the star.
- Customize your pitch. Gone are the days of blasting and spamming media. Look at recent stories the journalist has covered, select a few and reference them by name in your pitch. Share why you think this might be interesting to their particular beat. Each pitch should be clearly tailored to its intended recipient. According to the 2020 Cision State of the Media report, when asked for the No. 1 thing PR pros could do to help, 37% of journalists responded, “Understand my target audience and what they find relevant.”
- Show, don’t tell. Avoid marketing jargon and prescriptive statements. Instead, show media why your story is interesting with an arsenal of back-up material: real-life stories, industry data, research and statistics, third-party endorsers, compelling visuals and video. For example, our KWI media team recently supported a client who made a community donation for COVID-19. Rather than describe the donation to media in a carefully worded statement, we illustrated the story through video and hi-res imagery, backing our pitch with supporting industry data and even some examples of other companies who were supporting the cause.
At the end of the day, media relations is about building relationships with media. Even if you don’t have a particular story in mind right now, keep in touch with journalists so that when the right opportunity emerges, you’ll have a solid foundation to work from.
If you have a story you’d like help telling, our team of experienced PR professionals would be glad to leverage our media relationships and expertise on behalf of your organization. Contact us today to discuss how we can partner with you.