No slow news days: Working with media to place stories when breaking news does not stop

2020 has been filled with… a lot.  It seems like just about every day is filled with breaking news – important stories of natural disasters, COVID-19 updates, racial injustice and protests and the upcoming presidential election.

The one thing we’re missing: a slow news day, often a PR person’s best friend.

Don’t get me wrong, these major stories are critical, and we all should appreciate the reporters  who are working long hours and often putting themselves at personal risk in order to share news and inform communities across the country. As PR professionals that focus on placing stories for our clients, we understand the priority of these major stories, and so 2020 has been a year of being sensitive, patient, strategic  and setting and adjusting client expectations.

Here are four ways we have adjusted to working with the media in 2020:

That person on the other side of your email? They are human

I always used to open emails to media with something along the lines of “hope you are well” or “hope you had a good weekend.” That has changed this year, and most of my emails start off more along the lines of “how are you?” or “I hope you’ve been doing well, all things considered, and that your family is healthy.” This is not the year to assume anything, and the last thing I want to be is insensitive. Along these same lines, I am also waiting longer to do follow ups to media contacts, knowing that everyone is busy and generally worn out from this weird year. It’s always my goal to be persistent without being a pest when working with the media, and I’m trying even harder to live that this year.

Get to the point with a straightforward subject line

Want someone to pay attention to your emails? Get to the point. I recently had a conversation with a fellow Hodger about the importance of simplifying subject lines and being direct, and I have been paying close attention to that when I am firing off emails. When I am emailing someone about a product, my subject line might simply be, “Do you want a sample of XX?” Or, if I need someone to review something by end of day, my subject line might look like this: “Needs review by EOD: press release.” One of our clients, Mercy Chefs, does disaster relief work that is relevant in the breaking news cycle, and when our team pitches them, we make sure to include the name of the disaster in the subject so the email doesn’t get skipped.

Along the same lines, I am trying to not let my emails get too long so I will share a few bullets or thoughts to start and then promise more information if someone is interested.

Consider pressing pause on pitching

As a team, we often pause pitching on certain days or in certain markets, based on the climate of the country and the events that are happening – someone might send a message over Slack to remind everyone, “hey, this isn’t the day or week to pitch anything that isn’t breaking news.” Of course, the media contacts we work with don’t know we are taking a break. But we hope they appreciate getting one fewer email that day.

Manage expectations

As an agency, we work with clients, and it is our job day in and day out to both educate and manage expectations. If a client feels like something cannot wait to be announced, but we believe it won’t be successful on a given day or week, we let them know. We also have conversations about what merits a public announcement in the form of a press release or a pitch, and what can be celebrated internally or on a company blog. These conversations have always taken place, but they are ­happening even more frequently this year.

Following steps like these have allowed our team to place some important stories this year, including the excavation of one of American’s first Black churches in Colonial Williamsburg (NBC News), back-to-back disaster responses from Mercy Chefs (WVEC) and election campaign thoughts from our favorite Monmouth pollster (New York Times).

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Megan Irvin

Megan spends her days doing media relations, community relations, content creation and events for clients like Kroger Mid-Atlantic, Virginia Distillery Company and Mercy Chefs. Her favorite part of her job is working with clients and providing strategic counsel — and garnering media attention for clients in outlets like TODAY, Esquire, USA Today and Bon Appetit.

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