When I’m not working with my friends at Franco, I’m reporting on the auto industry for Forbes.com. Covering almost any beat right now involves pursuing angles related to the coronavirus pandemic. Savvy PR professionals understand if they can figure out a way to make their clients relevant, a reporter might be open to including them in a story.
I’ve been on the receiving end of dozens of pitches from PR folks hoping to land a spot for a client in one of my automotive stories related to the coronavirus. Some have been on target, others are poorly framed and a few have missed the mark completely or were tragically obtuse.
An example of a successful pitch came to me from a PR person representing an online vehicle sales site based in California. She succinctly laid out how the business updated its delivery and test drive practices to minimize, and in some cases, completely eliminate person-to-person contact. That wasn’t enough to carry an entire story, but we reporters are constantly “gathering string” for future stories and this element was a solid strand. Along with great and timely information, she set me up with a phone interview with the co-CEO of the company, and I was able to expand the conversation a bit. When I completed the story, that company played an important role and won significant exposure.
The key lessons here are:
- Know the reporter’s beat
- Research what the reporter is writing about
- Find a relevant aspect to your client or company’s business that could play a role in a future story
This PR person understood all those concepts perfectly, and we both chalked up successes in large part because of her understanding.
What’s not good? I’ve received many–more than you would think–pitches with sentences asking about my health, the health of my family, my dog (I don’t have one) and other well-meaning, but time-sucking salutations. The best way to soften up a reporter is to get to the point with a great story or element for a story.
Specifically related to the coronavirus, since my publication is international, a story about a local donation of face masks won’t make it. I am interested in examples of creative approaches to managing a business during the crisis, including novel HR and profit-maintenance solutions.
It’s vital to know the news outlet’s audience. A kind donation of face masks might be fine for the local paper or TV station, but not a network or global news organization.
I have also received pitches that were completely clueless given the current news climate. The stories are mainly softball features about some unrelated product or iterative technical gizmo or discovery. In a different time, I might be open to those stories, but the news hole has little room for anything beyond the pandemic.
That doesn’t mean I won’t do a non-pandemic story, but it has to be extremely significant or groundbreaking. When I explained this to one PR person, the reply I got made me cringe. It said, “oh that coronavirus is such a downer. Don’t you wanna do something more uplifting?” Sure, I’d love to. But not right now. Get back to me when people stop getting sick or dying from the virus.
Moral of the story: show some sensitivity and care for the reality our world is facing right now.
In the end, in this very unsettling time, think hard about whether the story your client has tasked you to pitch has real relevance to the coronavirus situation. If it does, then frame the pitch to highlight that aspect and why it might fit in as either a standalone, but more likely, an element in a broader story.
This story is going to be around for a long time, and we reporters are hungry for great angles to help keep the public informed and safe. Go about it the right way, and you can forge great relationships with reporters who can help you tell these important (and relevant!) stories.
Ed Garsten is Franco’s integrated media consultant. Contact him on Twitter at @edgarsten.