One of the biggest challenges for PR professionals now is conveying stories and trends that resonate with journalists. Since the pandemic, news cycles and media consumption have shifted dramatically. Nielsen predicted media consumption would jump by 60% as a result of the pandemic. Remote work coupled with the quarantine-imposed restriction of life events and obligations has meant most of us have more time on our hands. As a result, we are online more, and consuming more videos, articles and podcasts for both educational and entertainment purposes.
The question is, does “news” that’s not directly tied to COVID-19 matter in this climate? The short answer is “yes” – but it’s not as straightforward as that. I recently moderated a virtual panel, “Earning the Legal Media’s Attention in Times of Crisis,” where I was joined by Bob Ambrogi, LawSites blogger and LawNext podcast host, and Zach Warren, editor-in-chief of Legaltech News.
The prominent legal journalists offered several key takeaways to help media professionals understand how to get attention for their stories in these unusual times:
1. The news cycle is “topsy-turvy.” Industry standards for issuing news on certain days and at certain times no longer apply. Ambrogi and Warren said readership patterns have changed since the pandemic hit the U.S., with readers consuming content at all hours versus traditional “peak” times (mid-morning, late afternoon, and evening). The boundaries between work and home life are less distinct, and that’s particularly true when it comes to news consumption.
2. What constitutes “news” is different. Today, most media coverage relates to the pandemic, and those get attention in a pitch. While companies continue to launch new products, close on new funding and drive other events that would be considered news during normal times, staying relevant is important too.
3. Analysis articles are worth their weight in gold. With so much uncertainty, readers are looking for coverage of macro-trends that offer insights from industry peers. While practical guidance has always been important to readers, content that educates readers on how to deal with challenges in this new paradigm is in greater demand.
4. The more unique the better. When offering contributed content, solving a specific problem and providing a distinct perspective will get an editor’s attention. Keep in mind that multiple authors are pitching similar topics. Contributors need to find a way to provide advice that is both novel and valuable.
5. Know who you’re pitching to and fine-tune your message accordingly. This has always been solid advice, but it’s even more important in these demanding times. Make sure you do your homework on the reporter you’re hoping to land an interview with – especially at bigger news outlets where reporters change beats more often.
6. Make journalists’ jobs easier. Most are getting bombarded with more emails and pitches than ever, so it’s even more important to get right to the point in your pitch. Highlight what is new or different upfront. And don’t try to reincarnate an old pitch unless you have a new, distinct angle.
7. Don’t assume no response means “no.” If you don’t hear back, a quick, friendly follow-up with the reporter can make the difference between a story being covered or not. For reporters flooded with emails, it’s easy to miss even a great story idea that gets buried in their inbox.
8. Pay attention to what reporters have already covered, especially if you are pitching a timely topic. It helps to point out you have taken an interest in their coverage and make it clear how your story fits in with topics they are regularly covering.
9. Personalize your pitches to individual reporters. To save on time, many pitches are sent via a template and often sent en masse. Even if a media list is well-researched, sending a general pitch won’t cut it these days. Instead, make your pitch more personal. Tell a reporter why a recent article they wrote resonated and how it connects to the story you are trying to sell. In doing so, you demonstrate to journalists you value their work (and you make their job easier by connecting the dots.)
10. Be transparent and accessible, even when you have bad news. In difficult times, there will no doubt be difficult stories to share. Today, we are reading more stories about layoffs, bankruptcies and other ways COVID-19 is taking a toll on businesses. Taking a proactive approach and getting in front of the message with authenticity will typically lead to more favorable coverage.
While these practices are particularly relevant in times of crisis, marketing and PR professionals would do well to follow them post-pandemic and beyond.