Insights

To pitch or not to pitch? Media relations best practices during COVID-19

Posted by
Natalie Sauvé
Insights

To pitch or not to pitch? Media relations best practices during COVID-19

Écrit par
Natalie Sauvé

We’ve had robust, honest conversations with our clients about the sensitivity of these times, talking through how their product/services/reputation will be perceived through their actions over the next few months.

With many business leaders still feeling pressure from internal stakeholders to drive coverage in these uncertain times, we thought it would be helpful to share best practices for working with media to ensure you’re protecting your company’s reputation.

How to communicate with media

First, carefully weigh whether your new product announcement needs to happen right now, or if you can wait until COVID-19 calms down a bit. In most cases, pitching right now will be perceived as extremely insensitive.

If you do decide to move forward, obviously offer a phone or video interview in place of an in-person meeting. If you’re announcing a new product, make sure your spokesperson is prepped to talk through the product’s new features via a video interview, which is slightly different from doing an in-person demo.

Given the reporter will not be able to see the product/service at an event, assemble even greater digital assets to bring the story to life for them. In addition to providing photos and video demonstrations, other digital assets are key.  

Look at the reporter’s recent coverage before reaching out. If they are only covering COVID-19, then use good judgment and don’t pitch them. Understand they need to stay focused, and it’s not fair to clog inboxes with pitches. If they are interested in product news, many media outlets are no longer accepting packages – check in with the reporter before you send a product to them.  

When you talk with reporters, be even more gracious and helpful than ever. This is not the time to be overly assertive with your news. Remember that they are experiencing the same anxiety as all of us. Now, more than ever, be extra respectful.  

Some reporters and editors are not on the front lines and are telling us that they’re still looking for stories that are not about the virus because they have other holes to fill.

Proactive vs. reactive pitching

For clients whose business is affected by the situation in multiple ways, we’ve advised them to post (and continually update) a statement on their website describing how they’re handling the situation. That way, when reporters call, it is easy to refer to the site and tell them that it will be updated continually.  

When scheduling an interview, approach the situation with a crisis framework in mind: Leverage a prepared Q&A and rehearse with your spokesperson in advance. Keep the interviews brief – 10-15 minutes is adequate.

Some reporters and editors are not on the front lines and are telling us they’re still looking for stories that are not about the virus because they have other holes to fill. If a reporter reaches out, remember to proceed with caution and ensure your interview/statement recognizes the severity of the situation and does not promote your product/service.

What not to do

It’s not okay to proactively pitch a story that takes advantage of the situation, such as the following pro-active pitching themes:  

  • “Because people are working from home, they can choose to take advantage of (client product) online exercise product/service.”
  • “Due to the crisis, you can buy (insert client product name) all of our flavors at 50 percent off.”
  • “Our service helps our customers navigate through this crisis.”

Mine story ideas unrelated to the virus  

Outside of managing communications during the crisis, how else can we use this time?

We’ve been busy helping our clients prepare for future coverage opportunities, particularly feature stories.  Most of us bemoan the fact that we never get the time to focus on developing storylines to significantly position our clients. We don’t get the chance to interview stakeholders within the organization who have rich stories to tell. We’re all used to that “gerbil wheel” news cycle.

So, we’re using this time to dig in and mine for story ideas that ladder up to our clients’ key narratives. After all, one of the most rewarding opportunities in this business is developing a story that lands in a top-tier pub that delivers all the right messages at the right time for our clients.  

That time might not be now - but when we all get through this, having a bank of great story ideas will certainly help our clients hit the ground running and recover faster.

If your organization needs support or advice in these uncertain times, here’s where you can find the latest news, insights and resources related to COVID-19.

We’ve had robust, honest conversations with our clients about the sensitivity of these times, talking through how their product/services/reputation will be perceived through their actions over the next few months.

With many business leaders still feeling pressure from internal stakeholders to drive coverage in these uncertain times, we thought it would be helpful to share best practices for working with media to ensure you’re protecting your company’s reputation.

How to communicate with media

First, carefully weigh whether your new product announcement needs to happen right now, or if you can wait until COVID-19 calms down a bit. In most cases, pitching right now will be perceived as extremely insensitive.

If you do decide to move forward, obviously offer a phone or video interview in place of an in-person meeting. If you’re announcing a new product, make sure your spokesperson is prepped to talk through the product’s new features via a video interview, which is slightly different from doing an in-person demo.

Given the reporter will not be able to see the product/service at an event, assemble even greater digital assets to bring the story to life for them. In addition to providing photos and video demonstrations, other digital assets are key.  

Look at the reporter’s recent coverage before reaching out. If they are only covering COVID-19, then use good judgment and don’t pitch them. Understand they need to stay focused, and it’s not fair to clog inboxes with pitches. If they are interested in product news, many media outlets are no longer accepting packages – check in with the reporter before you send a product to them.  

When you talk with reporters, be even more gracious and helpful than ever. This is not the time to be overly assertive with your news. Remember that they are experiencing the same anxiety as all of us. Now, more than ever, be extra respectful.  

Some reporters and editors are not on the front lines and are telling us that they’re still looking for stories that are not about the virus because they have other holes to fill.

Proactive vs. reactive pitching

For clients whose business is affected by the situation in multiple ways, we’ve advised them to post (and continually update) a statement on their website describing how they’re handling the situation. That way, when reporters call, it is easy to refer to the site and tell them that it will be updated continually.  

When scheduling an interview, approach the situation with a crisis framework in mind: Leverage a prepared Q&A and rehearse with your spokesperson in advance. Keep the interviews brief – 10-15 minutes is adequate.

Some reporters and editors are not on the front lines and are telling us they’re still looking for stories that are not about the virus because they have other holes to fill. If a reporter reaches out, remember to proceed with caution and ensure your interview/statement recognizes the severity of the situation and does not promote your product/service.

What not to do

It’s not okay to proactively pitch a story that takes advantage of the situation, such as the following pro-active pitching themes:  

  • “Because people are working from home, they can choose to take advantage of (client product) online exercise product/service.”
  • “Due to the crisis, you can buy (insert client product name) all of our flavors at 50 percent off.”
  • “Our service helps our customers navigate through this crisis.”

Mine story ideas unrelated to the virus  

Outside of managing communications during the crisis, how else can we use this time?

We’ve been busy helping our clients prepare for future coverage opportunities, particularly feature stories.  Most of us bemoan the fact that we never get the time to focus on developing storylines to significantly position our clients. We don’t get the chance to interview stakeholders within the organization who have rich stories to tell. We’re all used to that “gerbil wheel” news cycle.

So, we’re using this time to dig in and mine for story ideas that ladder up to our clients’ key narratives. After all, one of the most rewarding opportunities in this business is developing a story that lands in a top-tier pub that delivers all the right messages at the right time for our clients.  

That time might not be now - but when we all get through this, having a bank of great story ideas will certainly help our clients hit the ground running and recover faster.

If your organization needs support or advice in these uncertain times, here’s where you can find the latest news, insights and resources related to COVID-19.

Natalie Sauvé
Senior Vice President
Natalie heads FHR’s Media Relations practice, as well as our Technology team. Natalie’s focus on strong relationships and storytelling helps guide our media resources across the company, as she provides senior guidance to clients looking to make an impact on business goals through earned media relations.