The media landscape isn’t going to magically revert to the world we knew pre-COVID-19. Outlets will be moving forward with downsized editorial staffs, and the complex societal issues that have dominated the news cycle will continue to shape the way all pitches are perceived. Therefore, the lessons learned during the pandemic and social justice protests are going to affect us as PR professionals for the foreseeable future.
To help guide media strategy for the second half of 2020, the following are ten tips for successful pitching based on our recent conversations and work with media:
Identify Thought Leadership Stories
Many — if not all — industries have felt an impact from the pandemic, and business leaders have had to evaluate current practices and pivot operations to adapt to the new norm. Media is seeking insider expertise on how industry trends are progressing, whether that’s speaking to COVID-19 business impacts or providing insights on diversity and inclusion initiatives. Business leaders can share expert thoughts on these topics and forecast what’s next for their respective space.
Pay Close Attention to Reporters’ Recent Coverage
Unfortunately, many reporters have felt the impact of COVID-19, and newsrooms have laid off or furloughed reporters. It’s important to research contacts’ working status to see if they’re still covering news stories. Other staff reporters are covering a wider range of topics to account for the layoffs and therefore, may be amenable to receiving pitches ideas outside their normal beat.
Confirm Editorial Calendar Changes
Editorial calendars are a helpful tool for PR pros to plan yearly pitches and to share timely story ideas with media outlets. However, as events, conferences, awards and other regularly scheduled content has shifted, so have editorial calendars. Now is a time to research editorial calendars or reach out to editors to request any updated materials for Q3 and Q4 to ensure your pitch ideas are evolving with the media landscape.
Review Local Markets’ COVID-19 Landscape
With cities and states across the country implementing an ever-changing range of protocols in response to coronavirus, PR pros should take time to research the latest guidelines in the local market they wish to connect with. Consider if people can gather outside in this market or if heightened precautions are being implemented to ensure community safety. This can help determine if hyperlocal media opportunities are feasible for in-studio segments, outdoor socially-distanced interviews or video conference interviews.
Make Spokespeople Available for Video Interviews
As social distancing guidelines continue to change and vary from state to state, PR pros should continue to offer media interviews with spokespeople via Zoom, Skype, FaceTime or other video conferencing service. Consider scheduling a media training with key subject matter experts as a refresh to share tips on the best ways to take a video conference interview.
Continue Relationship Building
While the media landscape continues to evolve and adapt, check in with media contacts to see how they are doing and learn how the pandemic has changed their lives and how they do their jobs. Remember many reporters are likely underwater, so try to keep communications brief and stick to email as your primary channel – rather than doing cold calls.
Connect with Freelance Reporters
As newsroom staffs have shifted, freelance reporters remain open to accepting pitch ideas and continue to publish stories outside of COVID-19 and social justice topics. They have proven to be great resource to cover light-hearted, positive stories on topics such as seasonal trends, community spotlights and non-profit success stories.
Pitching Before You Pitch
Reach out to reporters with a brief note asking if they’re accepting story ideas on the topic before you share your pitch. This can be a helpful way to gauge how reporters’ editorial content has shifted or not, and it’s a thoughtful conversation starter to build or strengthen a media relationship.
Be Sensitive and Compassionate
Think before you hit send on a pitch and consider the relevance of what you’re sharing with a media contact. Will what you’re sharing be perceived as tone deaf, opportunistic or self-serving? Continue to showcase humanity in your pitches and a common understanding for the hardships we’re facing right now. Checking in on reporters and remembering they’re humans is a big key for pitch success.
Follow Up But Be Patient
Reporters are feeling the pressure and being inundated with pitches. It may take them longer to reply so if you haven’t heard back after a few days, feel encouraged to follow up. That said, set expectations accordingly to avoid being a nuisance. To bolster your follow-up communications, include any relevant topics you’ve seen through your real-time social monitoring to reference what they’ve published recently.
It’s always important to take mindful and purposeful steps when creating media pitches and reaching out to reporters. However, as 2020 continues to unfold, PR pros must continue to evaluate the media landscape in the months to come and adapt outreach approaches to share the right stories at the right times.