Pitching in the Age of Unrest

By Marisa Long
October 19, 2020

The media landscape looks different these days so finding tactful and meaningful ways to tell stories is increasingly important. While it requires some shifts in expectations and strategy, it doesn’t mean all hope is lost. There are opportunities for brands to build relationships and better engage with media, thoughtfully tie into today’s current events and tell compelling stories. Here are a few tips and reminders to keep in mind right now.

Be the light at the “end of the world” tunnel

Since the beginning of the pandemic, media have been heavily focused on what one of my reporter friends called the ‘end of the world’ beat. The pandemic, racial injustice and inequity, economic collapse, wildfires and an ongoing climate crises and a polarizing political landscape that included a first presidential debate widely criticized as a “dumpster fire” – It’s heavy stuff, and understandably, it owns the airwaves, the internet and the print pages.

Reporters – and the rest of us – are looking for rays of light, however. Showcasing opportunities for economic recovery, examples of people supporting and showing compassion to others or highlighting how companies are creating solutions or prioritizing important issues can provide opportunities to peak through the clouds during this time.

The asterisk to this outreach? Make sure you are telling an authentic story with compelling and relevant data or examples. Any attempts to benefit from tragedy or misfortunes are sure to backfire. Just take a look at last week’s SNL skit, “Enough is Enough.” Please don’t be that guy.

Be patient, show empathy

Media response times may be slower right now because, like all of us, these are people who have personal lives and are dealing with working from home, tackling kids’ virtual learning, and in some cases, working either double their hours or being forced to reduce their hours due to budget cuts, layoffs and furloughs.

Building strong relationships with media and thoughtful follow up is always important, but right now it’s about being a good human as much as it is about being a good publicist. Each reporter/producer has their own process and by focusing on engagement rather than outcome, you can learn how a journalist works best and follow their lead. Now is the time to focus on relationship building, empathy and identifying new ways to make the reporter’s job easier.

Expand your scope

When you are creating your outreach strategy, make sure you start early and expand your scope more broadly. While top-tier media may be covering a finite number of issues, there are still a lot of local, trade and non-traditional media covering many different topics. Expand your strategy to include more outreach to local and regional print, radio and TV outlets, popular blogs/vlogs, podcasts (tools like PodcastClout can help) and trade/niche outlets.

You might find more comprehensive storytelling opportunities than through large national outlets, they can be leveraged on your social channels, and they will help position your spokespeople for future interviews by building out their interview expertise and credibility.

Also, consider submitting an original opinion piece to editorial boards. With staffing numbers down, many outlets are picking up more Op-eds from experts, especially online-only platforms. Op-eds allow you to tell the story you want to see written in your own words and can result in coverage you may not get from traditional pitching. Pay attention to timing, if you are able to tie into topics like the upcoming election or something happening locally in a specific media market, you will increase your chances.

Tell your own story

In addition to Op-Eds, don’t forget that we live in an online world where you don’t have to wait for someone else to tell your story. Now is the time to really invest in personal and corporate social media channels and websites and social media. LinkedIn, for example, has blown up in recent years as a credible place to go for thought leadership. Create compelling content with the right voices and build those voices up by investing in strong social visuals like graphics and video and consider boosting your social posts for increased visibility.