Both prospective and current clients often ask us why it takes so long to secure media coverage for their company or brand. “It’s the internet! Doesn’t news coverage happen instantly?” The short answer is no. The long answer requires more context and education about how the media industry works.
The first, most important thing to understand is that all news is not created equal. There is hard news and soft news. Hard news is what jumps to the proverbial “front page.” Think mergers and acquisitions, scandals or life events of those in the public eye, or even significant HR news or notable earnings reports of publicly traded companies. Most of our clients are not in a position to “create” hard news; it’s generally impacted by outside factors.
Soft news, on the other hand, is far less urgent. It tends to be more lifestyle or entertainment focused. Examples include brand campaigns or initiatives, human interest stories, new product launches and much more. This type of news is generally manufactured by the brand or company and carries less weight among media titles when it comes to prioritizing coverage.
As PR professionals, we are most often in the business of generating soft news for our clients, which means we must effectively persuade a writer or reporter to tell our story in a timely fashion, when it’s often an evergreen topic. This may be the hardest part of media relations. And it’s been made even more challenging by the changing media landscape. Over the last couple of years, newsrooms have been decimated. Most media outlets are short staffed and decentralized, with management farming out story assignments to freelancers with strong pedigrees. So instead of convincing one person to write our client’s story, we must convince one writer or freelancer to back the story idea enough to pitch it to his or her editor, passing through multiple approvals to move forward.
So what is the secret to success?
First and foremost, start the process early– 6 to 7 months early to be exact. It sounds like overkill, but the more lead time built into the process, the better chances of placing a story in your preferred timeframe.
Second, take time to build a compelling rationale for why the story is relevant. Why should anyone care? Put yourself in the editor’s shoes and make a case for why the story needs to be told right now, as opposed to down the road. One way to do this is to tie your news to an event or moment in time. Is there an upcoming trade show that makes your news timely? Can you hijack a recent trend or data point already making coverage to make your news relevant?
Third, be strategic about what media you target. Relevance is in the eye of the beholder. When more mainstream publications might not be interested, consider narrowing your approach to niche categories based on the nature of the soft news.
Securing earned media is no easy task; that’s why it’s also the most valuable type of media. It isn’t paid for in any way; it’s the labor of persuasion and strong storytelling, and because of that it’s the most credible among readers. So even though it can take longer than we’d like to come to fruition, it’s almost always worth the wait.