Earning media coverage is no easy task, especially during uncertain times. Strike the wrong tone and you could be perceived as tone-deaf and insensitive.
We are all navigating the impacts of the coronavirus, and knowing how to pitch thoughtfully has never mattered more. As the founder and CEO of a public relations agency, I’ve outlined a few considerations to keep in mind before you hit “send” on that next email to a reporter:
Get in where you fit in.
First, let’s be clear: Every pitch does not need to be related to the coronavirus. Many reporters and readers are facing news fatigue. While it’s important to stay sensitive and relevant, I’ve found that outlets are welcoming some degree of content variation, especially among more niche and trade publications.
What works: In your pitch, acknowledge that we’re living through a crisis. Ignoring this could make you seem clueless or callous. Your first line should address our current reality, then you can switch gears and focus on your pitch.
What doesn’t work: Forcing a connection between your story and the coronavirus is poor practice. Trying to unrightfully wedge your company into the crisis will undoubtedly rub people the wrong way, and they will not forget.
Do a gut check.
If you do think you have a story with a genuine connection to today’s difficult circumstances, run it through the “ADC test,” which breaks down like this:
• Authentic: Does this story align with your brand?
• Distinct: Is this story part of your company mission?
• Credible: Is your company qualified to be an authority on this topic?
What works: With the ADC framework in mind, think about how you can add value for readers in this moment. In a pandemic, you might assume that’s reserved for medical companies, but there are ways you can serve your audience in an effort to be sensitive to their needs. Ask yourself if you have data, in-house experts or some other resource that could be useful right now.
What doesn’t work: Making philanthropic efforts can be extremely beneficial when the world is facing trying times, but I don’t recommend this as a strategy to earn press coverage. This doesn’t pass the ADC test, and beyond that, it could make you appear as if you’re capitalizing on a crisis.
Get to work.
If your story passes the ADC test, you’re ready for the tactical work. This, too, has an acronym: DIGS. This means:
• Delve in. Research 10 outlets for your story. After that, research a few reporters at each outlet. Read their recent stories to figure out why they’d care about your pitch.
• Introduce your idea. Keep your email short — about eight sentences maximum. Tailor the email so reporters know it’s not a generic copy/paste. Include hyperlinks, but no attachments.
• Get a response. Don’t expect much of a reply, as reporters are slammed. Even if the reply is just a few words, that’s the start of a valuable relationship.
• Show you’re a resource. Don’t ask for a full-feature story. Instead, ask how you can help, and thank them for considering your idea. Courtesy goes a long way.
What works: To engage a reporter, you need to spell out why their readers would care about the information you have. Understanding that takes work. Learn what topics a reporter covers so you can appeal to that in your pitch.
What doesn’t work: Being pushy is irksome to reporters, but during a crisis, it can cause you to burn a bridge. Don’t ask if they saw your last email. Instead, follow up with a fresh hook. Tell them what you enjoyed about their latest story, for example. That’s a much better way to resurface in their inbox.
Perhaps most importantly, don’t get discouraged. Reporters are inundated with pitches daily, and right now, the news cycle is driving them exceptionally hard. Earning press coverage is just that — you have to earn it. It takes time, commitment and patience. But by following these best practices, you’ll be one step closer.