Shawn Warmstein|Sep 27, 2011

The Miami Hurricanes, Hurricane Irene and Hurricane Kardashian…three vastly different stories that took the media landscape by storm in the past month, flooding the airwaves and pages for the “news” hungry.

And just like the dramatic spike in page views that resulted from these stories were no mistake, neither are the quotation marks around the word news. The reporting of “news” today is inconsistent and often sensationalistic.

But this is a PR-centric blog. This is not just about media reporting and the public’s clamoring for “news.” (For the record, I think media only pander to their audience and the real blame is on the American public). Rather, this is about how the current environment affects the public relations industry and the mindset today’s practitioners need when trying to secure headlines.

The fact is that media today do not have a full battery of resources at their disposal, whether its camera crews, editorial space or time. Couple this with the public’s fascination for the sensationalistic, and it makes reporting on these topics a no-brainer: The audience is built-in and the story does not have to be cultivated in the same way as usual.

Since I would never advocate publicists create the sensational (in a negative way), and celebrity appeal cannot just be pulled out of a hat (unless that hat is filled with tons of money), what can be done?

The following are a couple concepts for PR professionals to keep in mind:

  • K.I.S.S. or “Keep it simple, stupid” – While the Warhol saying is that everyone will have their 15 minutes of fame, imagine you have just 15 seconds in today’s media environment. Ditch the roundabout pitch and tell reporters how you can help them and why they should care immediately. This type of quick sell mirrors a sensational headline. New laundry detergent guaranteed to get out any stain or your money back, is easy to understand. A new laundry detergent that works in three steps to remove dirt, grease and restore original color, and guarantees to work after every wash because of a new scientific breakthrough that utilizes a delayed time release of certain stain fighting chemicals that have been specially formulated, isn’t quite as sexy. And as reporters don’t have time to weed through thousands of emails or spend hours on the phone, writing or verbalizing your pitch in this style will cut through the noise and make it clear what you are trying to convince them to write about.
  • Don’t go to the well too often – Knowing what is a viable media story and what is not is a very important skill. Sure, as publicists we want to get our clients in the news as much as possible, but the fact is that media have to prioritize what they cover due to space and time restrictions. Less words or minutes available mean less “love” for all the parties vying for that slot, so making your pitch applicable to a broader audience will help elevate it above the competition. Additionally, if media know you are only coming to them when you have something legit, they are more likely to listen.
  • Client communication 101 – By no fault of their own, clients often see any news they generate as relevant for public consumption. However, media unfortunately do not share the same view, and only one is gatekeeper to your success. Since stories are becoming harder and harder to place, managing client expectations is key. Anytime you are working on a big project, it is important to be upfront with your client. Get their buy-in to a strategic media plan with clear coverage goals that do not project blind faith, but rather realistic probability. This is not a tip to under-promise and make yourself look good if you over-deliver, but rather to plan for the uncertainty of coverage.

As the media landscape continues to change, it is important that publicists continue to adapt. A good story will always sell, but if you can’t get a journalist to listen in the first place, then that story risks never being told.


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