Media pitching during COVID-19 – what you should and shouldn’t pitch

The two most common paths PR pros take during times of national crisis like this are to:

– keep pitching aggressively
– stand down and wait for it to end

Neither is the correct choice.

The first one is obviously flawed, and the people who do that are not usually self-reflective enough to seek out advice from posts like this. So I’m going to focus on why the second option is flawed as well.

I understand why people become hesitant. We’ve seen the tweets from angry journalists passed around, and we don’t want to end up as Exhibit A in Muck Rack’s regular “This Month in Bad PR Pitches” post. But when we dig deeper into those tweets, we can actually learn some empowering boundaries. And when we stay inside them, we can help journalists help their audiences, even during a crisis.

So I’m going to use some of the tweets from this month’s helpful Muck Rack post, plus some others I found, to illustrate how you should proceed.

Disclaimer: Nothing I’m saying here should be interpreted as attempting to disagree with or correct the journalists who tweeted. They get to feel however they want to feel – their tweets are highly useful and 100 percent accurate in learning how to not pitch THEM. All I’m doing is showing you some of the pitfalls that can come from applying their opinions too broadly onto other journalists who don’t feel the same.

If you read these tweets and automatically applied them to yourself, you’d think that it’s wrong to tie pitches to the coronavirus:

But instead, the way you should read these tweets is that it’s wrong to pitch coronavirus-themed ideas to these particular journalists.

I looked at one day’s worth of HARO requests this week and 25 percent of them were pandemic-related – the vast majority of those were not healthcare or politics or other “hard news” requests. There is clearly a need for coronavirus-themed content.

So what’s the takeaway?

It’s often not what you pitch, it’s WHO you pitch.

Coronavirus angles are okay if there is a strong connection with your product or service, AND you’re targeting the right person.

That’s articulated really clearly by this helpful tweet:

Here’s one that illustrates the importance of proper targeting. This is actually a decent attempt at finding a new angle that could be helpful to someone who covers dating and relationships. The problem is, the pitch went to someone who covers the airline industry:

Similarly, I think this is a fun angle and I bet it got covered somewhere else (it did). Just shouldn’t have gone to a WSJ retail reporter.

And it doesn’t have to be all COVID-19, all the time, as this editor from a London paper reminds us:

On that note:

The more narrowly focused your target outlet, the more likely they’ll be interested in what you have to offer.

Targeting niches or verticals is a great strategy right now. Many of the newsmakers those journalists are used to covering are idle. There are no trade shows, fashion shows, conferences, or live demos … or live sports. Most companies are pushing back new product announcements.

So there is a void in trade, lifestyle and sports media. See what you can do to fill it, like this projection of what might have happened in this year's NCAA basketball tournament.

A final thought: Individual journalists are dealing with their own challenges. They may have a worldview that promoting your brand or organization is inappropriate right now.

But you’ve got a responsibility to your employer or client to find ways to tactfully and appropriately keep their brand in the public eye. The wheels of commerce need to keep turning (within the bounds of good social distancing, of course).

Don’t take the extreme position of shutting down your outreach – tap your creativity for appropriate angles, and invest the energy in proper targeting.

This article was originally published on March 25, 2020

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