Should media relations wait during election season?

Media relations is always challenging—but the 2020 fourth-quarter cycle may doom your client’s coverage.

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Every four years, public relations professionals have a choice: Tell our non-political clients that they’re not likely to get major earned media until after the election, or hide the truth to make a few bucks. In 2020, the issue looms even larger, and your clients deserve to know that getting a big hit simply must wait unless they’re talking about SCOTUS, COVID-19, racial issues, the economy—or, of course, the election.

This conversation has the potential to earn real trust with clients and build a long-term relationship. It also has the potential to scare a client into hiring someone else. Though it might not be easy, it could be best to allow those clients interested only in the short-term to go elsewhere. They’re not focused on long-term goal planning and may have other issues like limited budgets which would make them a difficult client.

You’ll miss their money now, but not the headaches later.

Wise clients will appreciate your forthrightness. They’ll appreciate your solutions even more, if you advise:

  • Focusing on local and trade press
  • Building relationships with media gatekeepers
  • Conducting messaging experiments

Go local

They say all politics is local, and the same is true for getting in the press. Companies with geographic target markets should literally go local. Area news outlets are on the lookout for positive news that benefits their target markets.

If your clients are industry-focused, they should “go local” there, too. Industry trade publications and blogs are going to continue reporting on their sector of the economy no matter what else is going on.

These hits may not drive significant website or social media traffic or bring a lot of revenue through the door. What they will do is keep your client’s name in the press, continue presenting thought leadership and building brand credibility, and keep the powder dry for when the press is ready to take a break from politics.

Build relationships with media gatekeepers

Another productive way to use this time is to build relationships with media gatekeepers. By following them on social media, engaging with and sharing their content, and establishing connections through soft-touch outreach, you’ll get on their radar. This is a best practice which should always be done, but it is especially fruitful when getting media placements is more difficult.

Establishing relationships now, long before you “need” that gatekeeper, means that they’ll know you and likely be more receptive to your client’s story when you eventually do send them a pitch.

Conduct messaging experiments

In “Turning the Flywheel,” Jim Collins explains that successful companies build new products and processes through a bullet/cannon approach. First, they use low-risk, minimal-resource experiments—or bullets—to get on target. Once their system is calibrated, successful companies launch operations—cannons –with compounded effect.

You can help your clients do the same. Craft blog posts, social media posts, short videos and newsletters with the client’s messaging. See how target markets react. Use that feedback to perfect your messaging so when you’re ready to roll it out when the time comes. You’ll be working from a more solid, strategic foundation than if you just rush to react, potentially wasting your “cannonball.”

The truth will lead to better placements down the road 

The PR space is full of overpriced and underdelivered promises. By being honest with your clients about the weeks ahead, you’ll earn their trust. Playing the longer game is always good advice, never more so than in our current climate. And you might lose some money now, but you’ll build a stronger brand, get better clients, and succeed faster in the long run.

Dustin Siggins is CEO of Proven Media Solutions, a Virginia-based PR firm. 

Michelle Garrett is a PR consultant and writer with a focus on B2B clients.

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