Effective PR and media relations amid dwindling resources and news cycles that won’t let up
With frequent downsizing shaking Canadian journalism to its core, we’ve been arguing that it’s time to pump the brakes and completely rethink PR and media relations in times of crisis.
Gone are the days of casting a wide net and hoping for the best — some news weeks are DEFCON 1, and there is no room for error in strategy.
Yes, clients expect and deserve results. But throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks is a surefire way to be met by the deafening silence of defeat. In 2023, success is measured by your understanding of who you’re pitching to and what their bandwidth is for coverage outside of the headlines.
Media space is at a premium and increasingly harder to come by through basic PR tactics; so the question is, what are your best avenues when the odds are stacked against you? To be even more blunt, one question to ask yourself before a PR launch could be: “do you really think the public should care about your seed funding announcement when some days it feels like we’re on the brink of a world war?”
Harsh, I know, but the time for hand-holding is over.
Embrace Empathy, Be The News
To understand the challenges journalists face on a daily basis, and how it can exponentially overshadow your announcement, let’s recap some of the stories dominating the news cycle in 2023:
- COVID-19 aftermath
- War in Ukraine
- Climate Change
- A Canadian federal election on the horizon
- Widespread fears of a recession
- Increasing violence and mental health problems
- Increasing political polarization and anti-government sentiment
- Widespread housing crises in major cities
First, consider what it’s like to be in the eye of a never-ending storm of urgent and distressing news. Without proper self-care, it’s not difficult to imagine how facing these issues daily can cause burnout in the media industry. And this is why you must lead with empathy when engaging with beleaguered frontline journalists and producers. Before barrelling ahead with your pitch and talking points, take a minute to learn more about this person on the other end of your email. If you have a rapport, consider asking them questions like: What is your workload like this week? How do you feel about X issue? If you had the time, what would you rather be covering? What do you need from us to make your job easier?
And by listening, we learn. Knowing what we already know, it’s obvious that journalists need our support more than ever. The hard sell won’t necessarily be your lead-in; your first priority should be delivering what they need, when they need it, with as little friction as possible.
Any journalist will tell you that there are few things more annoying or off-putting than a pitch that is completely out of step with what’s happening in the world that day. It’s not necessarily a reporter’s job to figure out what makes your news relevant now, especially if it there is a commercial purpose behind the pitch; finding that relevance is our job.
Track the news as it relates to your pitch as well as the people broadcasting the content. As you become familiar with the cycle and who specializes in what (environment, health, politics, real estate, etc.), an outreach strategy emerges. Now, instead of trying to jam square pegs into round holes, you are coming to the table with a value-added proposition tailored to this person’s niche and needs. You may end up with a significantly smaller media list, but quality always trumps quantity.
Follow Through or Fail
Successful media coverage is not where a PR team’s work ends. And in an ecosystem as fragile as our current circumstances, pickup is only the beginning of your duties.
If you’re pitching an interview, prep your guest — media coaching is a staple of the TNKR suite of services and the best way to ensure your client’s message comes across with clarity and precision. Additionally you will want to provide the journalist or producer with concise background information and even a few suggested themes in the interests of eliciting a great story or anecdote.
But still, if an overworked journalist juggling multiple stories without a day off since Christmas, then look at ways to make the experience even more seamless in its execution. Return phone calls and reply to emails promptly and without superfluous language (Maybe! Be right back! Let me check?); coordinate and facilitate all communication between the journalist and the client, and always work to accommodate their availability.
Don’t waste time with flattery or empty compliments — be helpful. Be a source of relief.
Hedging Your Bets with Native Content
Of course, despite all your hard work and careful planning, you may still end up with less coverage than you may expect. And honestly, you shouldn’t beat yourself up over what is becoming an increasingly difficult task. One iron-clad solution? Never put all your eggs in one basket, or pinning your marketing on one quick PR campaign.
With a media sphere in flux, it makes more sense than ever to focus on developing your own content: blogs, thought leaderships essays, social media, op-eds — in a world driven by content, it pays dividends to develop a rich back-catalogue of assets designed to grow your brand, and prove to media that you are committed to the cause, whatever it may be.
Not a strong writer? Not to worry, there are experts who can do that for you! Think of the time and money you sink into web marketing activities that we know in most cases do not work; now consider the long term yield of investing a fraction of those resources into a broad and foundational thought leadership content strategy that helps bring media to you.
Look at it from a media worker’s perspective: if a reporter gets your press release and then proceeds to check out the client’s website, only to find a barren landscape of sales copy and intertwining calls to action… How is this person supposed to feel reassured, let alone inspired to take on the issue the client supposedly feels strongly about, so strongly that they want to scream their views from the proverbial rooftops? A robust content roll-out that informs, enlightens and supports the PR mission year-round is the most reliable way to get where you’re going.
Strategic communications do not exist without news media and the resilient, dedicated folks who do what they do because it’s their passion. No one becomes a reporter to make buckets of money; they do it because this is their craft, their calling.
Conscious and empathetic media relations strategy fosters a friendly, transparent relationship, and that should be the norm when we interact with media folk. It’s the golden rule as a best practise: be helpful and everybody wins.
Christopher Paré is a Senior Consultant with TNKR Media.