In the current media landscape, we have a multitude of means to distribute messaging to our constituents, including email, texts, our websites, and a vast and growing array of social media platforms. Even so, pitching to mainstream media outlets is still an important part of any good communications strategy.
Regardless of what is going on at the time, PR professionals need to honestly assess whether their story is relevant to the broader community.
Earned media placements allow us to reach a larger, broader audience than our more targeted efforts, and they serve to credibly reinforce what we put out to our followers on the web and social media. My initial plan for this post was to walk through the elements of a successful media pitch, but I’d like to frame that discussion instead in the context of the current situation—a global pandemic and a national discussion of racial justice.
During normal times, a successful earned media strategy requires public relations professionals who know how to construct a strong release and, more importantly, understand the news media, what approaches will capture their attention, and how and when to distribute to them. PR professionals know the best times of day to pitch to broadcast media outlets, that Friday is generally a bad day to distribute a release, and that right after Christmas, media are hungry for stories that have nothing to do with Christmas, among other things.
In that vein, distributing a release about an organizational announcement or achievement in the middle of a national catastrophe is ill-advised. The media’s attention, as well as the public’s, is elsewhere, so your chances of it getting picked up are small.
What are you to do, then, when the national catastrophe goes on for months and is then joined by daily nationwide protests over the issues of race and police practices? The first question to ask when considering a media pitch is about relevance. Regardless of what is going on at the time, PR professionals need to honestly assess whether their story is relevant to the broader community or to more granular pieces of that community. This typically determines whether the media can be expected to pick it up and which media outlets to target. A story that is typically relevant becomes less so during times of crisis.
Surely, some stories are so important they will always resonate, regardless of what is going on, but they are rare. That doesn’t mean you must go dark at times like this. In the midst of the pandemic, my previous employer, a local university, donated thousands of units of personal protective equipment to SSM Health to help address shortages of those items in the healthcare community. We wrote and pitched a release on it with pictures, and it was picked up by multiple news outlets in the St. Louis area, including three television stations.
If you have stories that strike at some aspect of these larger issues, then by all means, send them out. Otherwise, take a quick scan of a couple major news sites; the number of stories you see that are unrelated to the big issues at hand is a good indicator of their openness to your release.
In the meantime, don’t stop communicating directly with your constituents. They need to hear what you are doing in response to the pandemic, and they want to know where you stand with respect to support for the African-American community. It is no coincidence that many major brands and organizations have recently released statements supporting the black community and opposing racism. In fact, at this time, not releasing such a statement is itself a statement.
Don’t worry. While I am not sure we will ever entirely return to what we used to consider “normal,” we will arrive at something similar to it, gradually. Until then, in the grand scheme of things, not being able to distribute your media releases in the manner you’re used to is a minor inconvenience.
What are your thoughts on this? Please let me know what you think in the comments.