Nikki Little is a senior VP at Franco and an integrated communications professional with more than 15 years of experience.
Securing media coverage has always been an important part of a communications/PR professional’s job. But it’s become increasingly challenging in the past few years as many journalists are covering more beats and readers are confronted with a seemingly endless volume of news related to Covid-19, mass shootings, political happenings, wars and so on.
Although journalists receive an overwhelming number of pitches daily, results from Muck Rack’s State of Journalism 2022 survey include some encouraging data:
• Most journalists (59% of respondents) are just as likely to respond to pitches as they were a year ago.
• 80% of journalists say a quarter or more of their stories originate from pitches.
• Compared to last year, more journalists say they’re much more likely to cover an exclusive story (50% this year versus 46% last year).
We know journalists are willing to receive and respond to good pitches, but what should a communications professional do when faced with the conundrum of generating media coverage when there is no newsworthy information to share?
We can all identify with this type of situation: Your client (or company executive) either wants you to get media coverage on a topic that simply isn’t newsworthy, or he or she is putting on the pressure to get media coverage but not giving you anything newsworthy to work with.
Here are a few tips when you’re in the next “create news with no news” predicament:
• Ask for details on any and all company happenings. Sometimes execs give you what they think will be newsworthy and don’t give you the info that truly is. Remind leadership that you, the communications professional, are the expert, and they should trust you to determine what is and isn’t newsworthy. This starts with leadership sharing anything/everything they can think of that could possibly become an external story. Then, you can sift through those ideas and select the ones that could result in media coverage.
• Talk to the sales team to mine for story ideas. Talking to the sales team can be the equivalent of hitting the jackpot when it comes to story ideas. They’re on the front lines of talking with clients/customers and are adept at explaining to outsiders what the company does. They sell the company’s product or service and are the most knowledgeable on the tidbits of info you can use for a media pitch. Get one-on-one time with the sales team as often as possible.
• Pitch subject matter experts (SMEs) on trending topics. If you don’t have “new news” to share from your company, look at the topics trending in the news related to your industry and send out a pitch about how your company SME(s) can speak on those topics (include an angle or perspective they can offer that is different from what the reporter has already written about). My team and I have found success in outlining a few trending topics and how the SME can speak to those in one email (but keep it short and sweet—don’t write a novel). A useful tool for finding those hot industry topics is Google Trends. Use Google Trends to see what industry topics people are talking about the most online.
• Talk to the reporters who cover your client and ask them what stories they’re working on. This can be difficult because reporters are busy, but if you can go to events they’re attending or if you can call a few just to chat, you may find they’re pursuing stories you would have never thought of. If your client can help a reporter bring a story to life that they were already working on, you’ll not only have helped your client, but you’ll have developed a deeper relationship with the reporter.
• Consider sponsored content or other paid media ops to gain SME and brand recognition. If your media pitches aren’t getting responses, and if you have an advertising budget, try a sponsored article on a media outlet’s website or other paid media ops (a webinar, video interview, email feature, etc.) to get visibility with editorial. Ideally, your communications programs include paid, earned, shared and owned components, but if not, going the paid route with key media outlets can help generate awareness for your company and SMEs. This may require some education with your leadership on the value of paid media if they’re stuck in the “media coverage should be free” mode of thinking. Editorial and advertising are still very separate entities at many news organizations, but I’ve seen the value in getting on a reporter’s radar after committing to a sponsored article or other paid media opportunity.
• If earned media simply isn’t in the cards for a pitch, turn your attention to owned and shared channels. If you truly have an interesting or newsworthy story but you aren’t getting media interest, don’t completely ditch the story. Turn it into a blog post, video, story for your e-newsletter and/or social media content. I’ve heard from many journalists who say they conduct research on a company’s website and social media channels after receiving pitches, so you never know if/when that piece of owned or shared content could pique a reporter’s interest and result in them reaching out for a story they’re working on.
Media coverage and earned media will remain an important part of a communications professional’s role for the foreseeable future. Journalists’ inboxes will continue to be overloaded with pitches, so it’s important to get creative and experiment to build relationships with media and secure those coveted story opportunities—especially when you don’t have big company news or announcements to share.
Forbes Communications Council is an invitation-only community for executives in successful public relations, media strategy, creative and advertising agencies. Do I qualify?