Yes, you have a job to do – get media exposure for your client. Yet you cannot ignore the climate into which you are sending those pitches. If you do, you do a disservice to your client/company and yourself as a public relations professional.
Part of the duty of a responsible (and effective) pr pro is to have a greater understanding of the news media landscape. Are there major local or national stories in the area in which you are looking for media coverage?
You need to “read the room” before you pitch.
Just as you would not want someone ringing your doorbell during dinner or trying to sell you something while you were on the way out the door, journalists do not want unsolicited information that interrupts the regular flow of their work. Trying to get exposure during a pandemic, a time of political transition, a terrorist attack, or even a major weather event is next to impossible unless you have a story idea that’s somehow connected to one of those crises.
So, what do you do? There are a couple of “rules” we always follow when looking for media exposure during a crisis:
- Select story ideas or elements of the business/client/cause that are relevant to the larger conversation happening in the media. It may not be a good time to pitch dog grooming, but if the business has been doing free baths for dogs rescued from a natural disaster, that’s a story with a better chance of gaining exposure.
- Set reasonable expectations for your client or boss. Media pitching is difficult even in the best of times with today’s fast-paced news cycle. Vying for attention when there are so few resources and so little time for anything other than “the big story” can be close to impossible. Don’t say “it’s not possible,” just help your client understand what she thinks is “a good story” may not be “the big story.”
- Ensure your outreach efforts are appropriately toned and timed. It is not advisable to contact a newsroom during actual breaking news unless you are reaching out because you have something directly related to the story at hand. If there is flooding and people need food and shelter, you can reach out if you are offering information on how to obtain meals and temporary shelter. If a bomb has exploded, save the story unless you have a bomb expert who can speak directly to this incident.
Public relations pros already battle a negative stereotype among journalists – that we are all about “fluff” and our pitches are basically self-serving. If you don’t follow the three rules above, you are likely reinforcing that negative image and making it much harder for you in the long run. Even if you don’t get a bite on the story, but you pitch it well and at the right time, you may find yourself with a new contact for the future and, more importantly, one who respects your news sense and judgment.