One of my favorite things about the PR profession is the art of media relations. There’s nothing more gratifying than landing a great story for a client in a high-profile publication with strong influence and readership in their industry. This is especially rewarding after doing the due diligence to research a reporter’s interest and knowledge of a story topic and communicating a client’s unique perspective.
The recent rise of consolidated news outlets and leaner editorial departments, however, is making securing press coverage more challenging. Not to mention the fact that national and political news stories are dominating news cycles and carrying over into local outlets and industry trades through syndication. Complicating things further is the dynamic of fake news and paid corporate content, which are taking up prime real estate in highly sought-after news outlets.
Given these hurdles, PR professionals need to be smarter and more strategic about their approach to securing earned media. This includes having a greater awareness of current trends and hot political issues to leverage where appropriate. Also critical is having a good understanding of each outlet’s audience, who are not only following the news but in many cases driving the next story topic based on resulting conversations and shares on social media.
The good news is you can still get ahead of this rapidly evolving media landscape to continue to secure those stellar stories your company or client is counting on, and better yet, build share of voice over the competition. Here’s how:
Assert your story.
Relevancy is of even greater importance today: look for opportunities to jump on current trends and the latest political buzz, and position your story accordingly. Whether it’s healthcare reform, environmental issues, or internet privacy legislation, if your brand has a unique perspective on the topic, it’s the perfect opportunity to share it. Offer your senior executives to media in the form of interviews or bylines as a third-party perspective on how recent news relates to and/or impacts your direct industry. But make sure as you adapt and frame your messages to capitalize on news, you also stay true to your brand.
Think about your local angle.
As regional papers have adopted a stronger focus on national news, it’s important to find a local tie-in when pitching to these outlets. Although this renewed interest in national stories has picked up speed over the last decade, it became even more prevalent leading up to and after the 2016 presidential election, as government issues continue to take center stage. When leafing through The Patriot Ledger, a daily paper that covers the south shore of Boston, I noticed five pages of the Friday edition dedicated to national (much of it political!) news. In contrast, the local news section occupied just two pages.
This means grabbing the attention of a journalist at one of these regional papers requires thoughtful and targeted outreach to craft your story in a way that the publication’s readers living in specific regions will care. Make sure your headline is directly linked to the focus of your story and is creative and catchy to not only grab the journalist’s attention but also entice readers to share.
Satisfy your target audience on social platforms.
Evidence shows over half of Americans are consuming their news via social media. That means you’re not only competing with political and national news in print and online, but on Twitter too.
A strong social media presence is vital to the success of any organization, and it’s essential to take steps to effectively connect with your target audience by setting the tone from the start to create a unified brand and build credibility. Make note of media targets and industry influencers in social channels and take the time to listen to what they’re saying to look for opportunities to connect with them in a more personalized way. It’s important to listen and be aware of and even respond to (both positive and negative) reactions to news articles if they relate to your business or industry. This will help you demonstrate brand authenticity, build new relationships and strengthen existing ones.
Pick your conversations (and timing) wisely.
In this highly political climate, leveraging relevant national stories for brand leadership presents more opportunities for coverage. But it’s a tactic in which brands need to be very smart and selective. Evaluate situations and topics to determine whether offering an opinion will truly contribute value to your brand and/or industry, and if it supports your underlying business objectives.
While it’s tempting to act quickly when choosing to communicate a viewpoint, especially with the instant capabilities of technology in the race to beat out our competitors, it’s essential to allot proper strategic thinking and planning to weigh possible perceptions and speculations. This is especially true in a world where audiences have difficulty distinguishing between fact and opinion.
When considering contributing commentary on a specific issue, do your research first (online and in social) for other viewpoints being discussed. Consider your target reporters and audience and whether they may be completely distracted by the current political news. If so, your well-thought-out planning will most likely fall flat and result in wasted effort. If you’re pitching reporters under embargo and you learn of an upcoming White House announcement, consider pushing the embargo to the next day when you’re more likely to have their full attention.
Defend against fake news.
A final point that can’t be ignored is the proliferation of “fake news” following the 2016 election. In the early 2000s, the growth of online news prompted concerns of like-minded citizens to form “echo chambers” or “filter bubbles” where they would be insulated from contrary perspectives (Sunstein 2001a, b, 2007; Pariser 2011). More recently, the concern has shifted to social media platforms such as Facebook where content can be easily reached as many readers as Fox News, CNN, or The New York Times, without any accountability for third-party filtering or fact-checking.
It’s important to take this into account when considering building a presence in these channels and engaging with press and your target audience. Identify potential exposure scenarios and develop strategies to rise above the fake news phenomenon, such as providing a genuine face behind your brand, and always be willing to back up your claims. See more tips on this topic from my previous blog here.
While the news landscape continues to shift with unprecedented speed, it provides a platform for businesses to share their voice when appropriate. Our job as PR professionals is to continue to listen closely to the buzz, identify when opportunities arise that line up with an organization’s core values, and capitalize on strategic opportunities for competitive advantage.