Telling the scoops from the puff
Written by Carl Escoffier
Everyone, especially those in PR, should be checking the news when first waking up. The digital age, in no small way shaped by social media, has led to a wave of information flooding our barely awake brains as we adjust to the bright blue light of our devices.
Examining news stories this way allows you to stay ahead of the curve of those that wake up even half an hour later than you. It affords the opportunity to be pragmatic with your pitching. But how do you truly differentiate when a story is just right for your client and when it’s one to scroll past?
Blocking out the noise
If you try hard enough, you can make any story about their client. A house being broken into could have a cybersecurity angle, in the same way, a message in a bottle could relate to a messaging application. But what is that bringing to the table? Are you positioning your client as a thought leader, or are you simply looking to get a comment at the end of the story when the journalist needs to fill the word count?
Correctly consuming the news
So how are you supposed to find the news needle in the haystack? A simple yet effective way is to personalise your consumption of news as much as possible. Follow the right journalists on social media, select specific topics on news alerts and look for keywords that resonate with your client’s intentions.
Your imagination can take you as far as you want but it is a matter of grounding these thoughts within reality. Taking a big story, say an ongoing global conflict, is not the best time for a radical new pitching strategy. Instead, think about news pieces that will only continue to grow in the coming weeks that your client can offer a pragmatic view upon.
Don’t just see what sticks
When you’ve confirmed that a news story is of interest to your client, there are a number of pitfalls that those in PR will want to avoid. The first is throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks. Just because a news story may be of relevance to your client does not mean their existing materials already are. Sending out pre-approved commentary on mass to even slightly relevant journalists is not a positive way to get ahead. In fact, it will damage your position on the matter down the line as journalists won’t take you or your clients seriously.
Similarly, keeping it on the back burner won’t do much good either. Clients, in any profession, will want to hear your well-formed ideas on how they could be doing something different. Maybe the idea will be shot down but they will always appreciate you bringing it forward.
Be realistic yet ready
The key is not a fast-turning one. The first step in relating a news story to your client is by opening up a dialogue on what the matter entails. Giving them as many concrete steps as possible allows for a smooth passage of PR play. However, keep expectations low. This immediate piece of news may pass as your client takes the time to form their message. Rushing a pre-formed idea is damaging to all and can have adverse effects on your proactive intentions. But, with careful thought and planning, the next time a similar news alert pops up, it’s down to your own reaction speed rather than your client’s approval time.
Overplaying your hand and playing it safe with interesting news angles are two areas that anyone in PR must be wary of. The answer is to carefully select a story, putting in the time and thought by broadening your scope and opening your client’s eyes. That’s how once impossible verticals become your veritable stomping ground.