4 guidelines for pitching Irene-related stories

The hurricane that’s making landfall on the East Coast will consume newsrooms for the next several days. Pitch the media cautiously—or not at all.

A couple of events trump all other news, and one of them is a hurricane, particularly one bearing down on the Eastern Seaboard.

With Hurricane Irene getting ready to wreak havoc anywhere from Florida to Maine, and possibly everywhere in between, don’t count on there being much, if any, other news coverage. That will likely be the case through the weekend and, depending on the damage, through next week.

Unless your clients are in the insurance or construction business, it’s best to wait until Irene leaves and clean up is under way before making any news pitches. This will be true for news outlets nationwide, but particularly on the East Coast.

As newsrooms cover Irene, they will be looking for stories related to the hurricane, no matter how thin. It’s one of those news events that consume news organizations, even though the flow of actual news is minimal until the hurricane makes landfall.

If you have clients who are integral to hurricane preparation or the mop-up, this is a good opportunity to offer helpful information through the news media. But be clear that you are pitching information, not your client. If the information is good enough, the media will mention your client.

If you are jumping in to the fray and have some real news or information to pitch about the storm, here are some tips to follow:

Don’t make predictions. Even the most seasoned weather experts know that hurricanes are unpredictable.
Keep comments measured. Calling it the “Perfect Storm” just plays into the hype. And the term “batten down the hatches” is just cliché. Avoid it at all costs.
Keep it accurate. Weather can change in an instant, so base your comments on the latest news.
If you are not an expert and have little to offer, take a pass. Just because the media calls, don’t feel obligated to speak—particularly if you can’t offer anything useful. With a hurricane, the news media are under pressure to fill space, and stories with little news get blown out of proportion.

Gil Rudawsky is a former reporter and editor. He heads up the crisis communication and issues management practice at GroundFloor Media in Denver. Read his blog or contact him at grudawsky@groundfloormedia.com.

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