PR Tips For Reactive Media Pitches

A company’s expertise on a subject can become instant PR currency when that topic is in the news. PR teams can take advantage of sudden extra relevance by immediately pitching a client as a news source to media hungry for pertinent expertise. Some call it newsjacking. But in truth nothing is being “jacked” or stolen; instead something is being offered — ideally in the form of informed commentary. Here are the PR fundamentals for reactive media pitches.

PR tips for reactive media pitches

Combine automation with human monitoring

PR people are news junkies, and many start scanning the headlines before hitting the snooze button. But eyeballs can’t catch everything, so most set up digital news alerts. From Google Alerts to more formalized media monitoring platforms like Cision, there are number of tools to help identify relevant items quickly. For example, if you rep an online roommate pairing service, you will want alerts on news topics like the apartment rental market, housing regulations, or even roommate horror stories. Once you spot the opportunity to showcase your client’s expertise, it’s time to pull together a smart media pitch – on the double. Keep in mind if you’re seeking to be included in some reactive news, “day of” is essential. But contrary to convention wisdom, some stories may by their nature have the legs to last.

Reactive is a not always a rush job in B2B PR

If the top media targets are in tech or trade press, some breaking stories have such large ramifications that they could never be resolved quickly. Many tech-oriented narratives, from ongoing privacy breaches to Facebook’s role as a tool for Russian disinformation in the 2016 election will be discussed for months and years after the fact. Another example is the YouTube brand safety crisis.  The story of major brands finding their ads featured along side extremist propaganda and pornography has been going on for many months. So subject-matter experts in the many segments of ad tech had multiple opportunities to offer expert commentary as the story evolved. A good PR team will milk the ongoing opps for all they’re worth.

Ready before the news even happens

When assembling that brief but compelling pitch, the PR pro will include a quote from the subject-matter expert or SME. To save back and forth, we often create a spokesperson quote for client approval instead of asking for a comment and waiting for a busy client to craft it. Over time, the PR team can build a library of pre-approved client content for use when relevant news hits. It requires legwork, but prepared content allows for a fast reaction, and the media like it so they can file quickly. We have seen this strategy work particularly well on behalf of our cyber-security-focused clients. Data breaches and hacks have become almost a daily occurrence, necessitating a steady stream of reusable content. Having that library has been critical to our success.

Choose the right media

The PR team should compile a mini-media list that begins with those journalists who reported the trending topic. Though their stories have already been published, many will retroactively include insightful commentary into their pieces. Others will also write follow-ups that lean on your SME’s expertise. After that, you can broaden the outreach in a follow-up. Other reporters on relevant beats may be hustling to cover the same topic, and your SME may be a big help in bringing a fresh perspective to the story. You may then want to cast the net more widely to those media who may not have considered the topic – in which case the existing context will be a good selling point.

Don’t forget owned media

While the PR team is pitching media, the client can make good use of owned media channels, building more in-depth collateral and content through whitepapers, vlogs and podcasts, or guest blog posts. These assets can be powerful forms of thought leadership and effective marketing materials for customers or prospects seeking information about the breaking news. As a bonus, the content can also be used be re-purposed in briefing materials to help ready a spokesperson for any interview requests that require more depth versus a quick soundbite.

The reactive media pitch by definition cannot be planned, and it takes extra attention and agility, but the outcomes can be very positive. In a PR world where you’re always battling for a reporter’s attention, a reactive news opportunity can be a quick win for the client and the agency. As well, it’s often a great way to get on a journalist’s radar and begin a longer-term relationship.

PR Pros: Turn Your Client Into a Subject-Matter Expert (SME)

Smart PR practitioners know that it’s integral to strategic communications to have a client you can confidently and consistently put forward as a subject-matter expert (SME). Whether you’re trying to pitch a fresh story, “newsjack,” or prep a conference speaker proposal, having a go-to SME with the right background is key to many a PR campaign’s success.

Executives who can demonstrate superior understanding of issues, trends, etc. can earn the profile of a trusted industry insider – which only helps PR pros garner publicity on a client’s behalf. In short, if you’re client isn’t an SME already, it’s time to make him/her one!

Here are some ways to establish your client as an SME:

Home in on a topic and own it. Subject-matter experts are people who know a subject inside and out. Figure out precisely the topic on which your client can shine. Sometimes, the more arcane or obscure, the better. For example, there are a lot of retail marketing experts, but perhaps your client is an online retail marketing expert who specializes in imported footwear? Be as specific as possible.

Encourage continuous learning! Truly great subject-matter experts are eager to amass even more expertise, and good PR pros can help. Set up relevant conversations with other industry folks for your client, share applicable videos to his/her industry, recommend networking events to attend, etc.

Develop authentic, useful content. Subject-matter experts can create more of a name for themselves by publishing timely, useful, in-depth content. Whether this content is shared via a personal blog, the company website or through byline articles in key outlets (ideally a combination of all), it’s important to get it out there.

Don’t be selling. The expertise you’re sharing should be relevant to the brand, with credit to the client company, but it should never come across as a sales pitch. Content that’s overly commercial will hurt your case rather than help.

Take advantage of speaking opportunities. Speaking opportunities on panels and seminars, particularly at major industry conferences, are a great way to get your SME out there and “strut their stuff”! The majority of conferences have reporters in attendance and this is an excellent opportunity for the SME to get the recognition they deserve.

Keep it social and keep it current. As an SME, your client needs to be on company and other social media platforms putting his/her POV out there. Be mindful about keeping it fresh. Nothing says “no thanks” quicker than a stale blog post from last spring. Although time-consuming, it will raise your client’s profile and keep them at the top of the must-have industry source list!

Better Brand PR: How To Work With A Third-Party Spokesperson

Brand spokesperson. It’s a time-honored PR strategy, and for good reason. The right spokesperson can add depth to your message, help tell a story, and confer appealing attributes that the brand may lack or need to amplify.

But borrowing expertise, or sheer glamour, from a third party always carries risks. Just ask Samsung, which suffered embarrassment when director Michael Bay walked off the stage after a teleprompter snafu during the unveiling of a new curved-screen TV at CES. But while the problem there may have been one of preparation over temperament, the most common challenge is typically the choice of spokesperson.

Here are some tips to mitigate risk and maximize the upside of a third-party spokesperson.

Make it credible. If you’re going to link your brand to an external person, there needs to be a credible tie to him or her. The equity of each “brand” needs to mesh so that they are congruent in imagery and “personality.” Market research and “Q” ratings are helpful, but in the case of a celebrity, the reason for the choice should be intuitive not just to marketers and PR people, but to your sister-in-law.

Consider an expert over a celebrity. A celebrity isn’t right for all situations, of course. A credible subject-matter expert may represent your client’s interests with greater authenticity when it comes to earned media interviews. They can also offer an easier and more cost-effective working relationship and are often more motivated to do a better job delivering messages in interviews.

You cannot over-research. Once you have a workable list of candidates, find out everything you can about each of them: their background, credentials, experience, history and particularly any red flags that may be a clue to how a working relationship could fail. Everything is online now, so be thorough!

Spell everything out in the agreement. The odds are, whether the spokesperson is an athlete, author, or a physician, they have a healthy ego. This may be what helps make them a good choice, but take care in working with this type of individual. Do your due diligence, and make sure every detail is spelled out in your legal agreement, down to the specific number of brand mentions. Be sure that your personality is accompanied by a pro to everything they do.

Conduct a message training. It doesn’t matter how experienced your spokesperson is with public speaking or media interviews. S/he cannot possibly master brand messages without formal prep. Build in rehearsals and contingencies, particularly in the case of events and conferences. A dress rehearsal in the actual venue is ideal where possible, even in a forum where there’s a teleprompter, as Samsung’s experience shows.

Have a Plan B and C. Begin by discussing internally what to do in the event of mechanical or human malfunction and have scenarios in place. Consider appointing a company rep to act as back-up spokesperson in case of a last-minute change. At the venue, arrive early, spend time there, meet with the staff and have back-up auto-cue, laptops, thumb drives or whatever it will take – the show must go on!

If all else fails? Have a sense of humor and go with the flow. Unless you’re giving a life-or-death White House briefing, any smart PR or marketing person can make the requisite PR lemonade out of lemons. As a case in point, Samsung’s Joe Stinziano managed to gracefully close out his press briefing, and the whole episode may have even drawn more positive attention to the TV than it would have otherwise received.