Insights + News

With Media Shrinking, Telling a Good Story is Imperative

March 5, 2024
By: Will Hernandez

The current media landscape is grim.

January alone saw 538 announced layoffs across print, broadcast, and digital media. Business Insider, TechCrunch, and the Wall Street Journal’s Washington, D.C. bureau, among others, all suffered job losses. We’re also seeing entire publications close like The Messenger, which was founded by the former owner of The Hill. The Messenger failed in just one year.

According to Politico, the news industry shed 3,087 digital, broadcast, and print news jobs in 2023 – the highest annual total since 2020, when 16,060 cuts were recorded. This year is poised to turn into another 2020 (minus the pandemic) in that regard as the media layoffs continue.

Why does any of this matter? For public relations firms and their clients, the number of well-trained journalists that understand the intricacies of complex topics is shrinking. Even worse, those reporters that remain are overworked amid staffing shortages. That in, turn, means agencies such as BackBay Communications need to be able to tell an almost perfect story to get a reporter’s attention.

Of course, every PR agency is a bit different in how they go about pitching the media. There’s not one single formula for success. You might have more success with a quick two-sentence email to a reporter than a 400-word pitch that you spent a couple of hours writing. As a former journalist myself, I’ve had quite a bit of success with that exact tactic. Spoiler alert: Journalists are in a rush, and sometimes don’t have time to read 400 words.

We at BackBay recently put together some best practices for media pitching. Even for the most veteran staff members, a recent presentation about “tips and tricks” was a good reminder to discuss what works and what doesn’t work. The following is just a small example of how we go about helping our clients land earned media in target publications.

Identifying pitch topics

  • Every day, take time out to do a 15-minute “news scan”: know what your clients are reading and read the news with a specific client in mind.
  • Work with subject matter experts (SMEs) at the client, if possible, to identify trending topics. For some clients, sending a weekly media digest with articles of note might generate topics for further discussion and pitching.
  • It’s sometimes easier/more effective to pitch a smaller story; a granular tidbit is something a journalist can visualize.
  • Secure editorial calendars if publications have them and plan pitching against them.

How to identify SMEs for topics

  • Work with clients to establish a spokesperson matrix. Which SMEs can speak to certain topics?
  • During media training, ask SME(s) what they’re hearing from clients; what they find most interesting; etc.
  • Scan clients’ socials for company blog posts; scan executive LinkedIn posts for topics that might stand out.

How to identify proper media & reporters

  • Scan tracking list for past media engagements to connect with friendlies that have written about said topics. (What’s happened in the last 6 months with generative AI?)
  • Ask yourself whether a trade publication is aimed at my client’s customers and prospects.
  • As previously mentioned, scan the news published by the top publications your clients are reading.

Writing the pitch

  • A mix of lengths & types can be effective: more fulsome pitches, including bio info, to complement shorter pitches.
  • As previously noted, play up SME’s background if it’s notable (for example, worked for a large bank, or Big Tech company).
  • Have a timely insight to share if possible.
  • Use bullet points for complicated subjects.

Reaching out to reporters

  • Email for most; DM for very friendly contacts.
  • There’s really no rhyme or reason to day or time to reach out (unless there’s breaking news). A Friday afternoon pitch can get a response.
  • The trick is the follow-up. Wait 1-2 days, then follow up. No response? Wait another 2-3 days, then follow up with a promise not to bug them again about said topic.

Managing the process

  • Stay organized: Lean on client trackers and update them.
  • Interview notes are important.
  • Follow-up with reporters after interviews to make sure they have everything.
  • “Postgame” analysis can helpful with clients, especially after larger campaigns.

Other tidbits

  • Craft a compelling subject line.
  • Develop relationships with reporters.
  • Follow and Like posts by reporters on X and LinkedIn.
  • Check-in periodically w/friendlies.
  • Track journalist moves: send an intro note and wish them congrats. This could lead to a conversation.
  • Don’t pitch garbage.

While there is no clear path to success in media pitching, putting in the work before, during, and after the process is imperative. There are no shortcuts, though occasionally luck will be on your side. That’s rare, which is why preparation is the key to achieving a modicum of success.

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