How to (judiciously) take advantage of trending news stories

Injecting a client into the conversation about a major event can be a boon, but you have to be careful with your approach.


The overarching goal of public relations is a simple one: Keep your clients in the news. That’s often easier said than done, though. One approach that works well (especially when your clients don’t have their own news to share) is to seize upon the trending stories already in the news and use it to insert your clients into the conversation, but you have to do it carefully. Choose the right news story for your client You must be able to decipher which storyline is going to work for your client. For example, Target and Neiman Marcus’ recent data breaches compromised customers’ credit card information and made national headlines. By monitoring the conversation in the media, consumers and reporters were concerned with how this incident happened and how they can protect themselves. This was a perfect opportunity for our client, the Center for Internet Security (CIS), a nonprofit agency dedicated to helping organizations with their cyber security infrastructure. Remember to be a resource, not a burden Following the Target and Neiman Marcus data breaches, we immediately began pitching our client. We knew CIS could offer reporters an expert opinion on the story and readers advice regarding how to protect their financial information. We tried to be succinct with reporters and provide them with material they hadn’t already learned or written about. In other words, we didn’t waste their time. The news about the retail breach was everywhere. Many reporters immediately covered the story. It was up to us to offer a different angle. For instance, a NBC reporter wrote an article on the news relaying some specifics about the number of people affected and Target’s statements. We were able to gain her interest by offering a security expert who could speak about data breaches themselves: whether some go unannounced and how soon retailers should inform their customers of a breach. By providing her with information she didn’t cover in her initial story, she saw CIS as a relevant resource and ended up including CIS in her follow-up story. The right storyline, offered to the right outlet, resulted in a mention from NBC News, ABC News, the Los Angeles Times and others. Not too shabby. Be timely One of the tricky elements of wading into a news story is that you don’t know when it’s going to happen. You’ve got to stay on top of things. Any delay in offering your client to reporters increases the risk that competitors will beat you to it. One angle that persistently captures the attention of media members is when research studies are released. Research that reveals statistics and specific data pertaining to a particular industry can help make your point that your client is relevant. For example, we worked with a client called imo, a free messenger app for Android and iOS. The app has a number of competitors in the crowded messaging space, such as Whatsapp and Kik messenger. Early last year, Informa made an announcement that chat apps had surpassed SMS by message volume. We immediately drafted a pitch and began offering reporters a chance to speak with the founders of imo to discuss the shift. Without acting quickly, the competing messaging apps would have been included in stories highlighting the “death of SMS” and the “rise of chat apps.” Instead, our team was able to get imo in articles about the research, including one in TechnoBuffalo. Remember to be human first, publicist second As much as you wish your client could be in every story, there are some instances where you need to restrain yourself, as you want to be remembered as being supportive, not desperate. When Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast of the United States, people nationwide wanted to help and send support to those whose homes had been ripped apart. Brands immediately formed partnerships with the Red Cross and other charitable programs. That’s about as far as the brand/charity aspect of a disaster story should go. From a PR standpoint, you should never try to capitalize on a tragedy. Somewhere along the line, though, some brands forgot this and began pitching about their “good deed” to get their name into the news.

In a situation like Hurricane Sandy, reporters will research the ways people can donate and will reach out to you if they are looking to round up all of the brands participating in the relief effort. That is when you should share your good deed, but never before then. Alison Krawczyk is a public relations specialist at Overit Media in Albany, N.Y. A version of this story originally appeared on the agency’s blog.

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