Group Gordon’s Alison Berg explains how to find PR opportunity in the news cycle without being opportunistic.
Coming out of a tough year, we’ve become accustomed to a heavy and hyper-focused news cycle. From growing COVID fatalities, horrific racial violence, and a contentious election season, the appetite for unrelated storylines was minimal. Pitches about unrelated company news or story ideas could, at best, be written off as inconsequential, and at worst perceived as insensitive or tone deaf. Worse still are pitches that try to latch onto one of these prominent topics but stretch too far to make it work, coming across as opportunistic.
We encourage clients to strike a balance. Acknowledge the universal interest and immediacy of these looming topics and adjust expectations for communications opportunities. Here are four tips for navigating this media landscape.
A good place to start is anchoring any communications in the mission of the organization. How do the company’s identity and values relate to major cultural or political events? If it takes more than two sentences to explain, it’s probably a reach. Resist the urge to be a part of the initial flurry of news if you are not a direct authority that will add information or perspective to the conversation.
Take a medium- and long-term approach, analyzing the potential ripple effects that an event will cause that are related more directly to your industry or service. For example, at the beginning of the pandemic we saw health organizations of all kinds clamoring to share their expertise. But it soon became evident just how far reaching the impact would be – affecting housing, employment, and social services, as well as supply chains, technology, and so much more. Who would have known that toilet paper would become such a hot topic? By thinking ahead about the aftershocks of a crisis, companies can proactively introduce those new storylines and position themselves at the forefront of the conversation. These are prime opportunities to pitch company spokespeople to provide expert commentary, op-eds, and briefings or background for reporters.
For unrelated company stories such as announcements, studies, etc., be flexible with the launch date and targets. When significant time and resources go into new initiatives, it can be tempting to have visions of grandeur. Reset expectations about which audiences will be receptive to the content given the larger context. For example, if national media is occupied by an urgent story, setting your sights on industry trades and local news can allow you to reach a smaller but often very engaged audience.
While being part of media conversations about urgent issues may not be strategic, it doesn’t mean companies that are not directly engaged in health, social justice, or politics can or should stay silent on major current events. Company-owned platforms such as social media, websites, blogs, intranets, and newsletters can all be appropriate channels for thoughtful statements of solidarity or acknowledgement. But take care to ensure there’s sufficient substance behind the words and some connection to the core values of the company, otherwise the message will fall flat. Show how the company supports these causes either by sharing what is already being done or new commitments with measurable goals.
Despite what may seem like an impossible-to-break-into news cycle, a strategic and deliberate approach can reveal valuable paths for effective PR that is opportunity-rich without being opportunistic.