This has been a brutal few weeks for journalists. Newsrooms of every size have slashed their headcount's, some almost completely. In a harrowing experience for journalists, Quartz, VICE and numerous Conde Nast publications, just to name a few, have all laid off sizable portions of their staff. We are seeing an already small media landscape, truncate further at lightning speed.
Here are a few tips to navigate this new media relations environment:
If you’re in need of freelance support, consider tapping one of the recently impacted journalists. And, be vocal on social media about job openings you’re aware of that warrant a reporter’s keen eye and skillset.
These newsrooms are hurting. Reporters still working have seen their friends lose their jobs. Now is not the time for “evergreen” pitches that stretch the reporter’s beat. Ensure you’re pitching a spot-on story that is timely and relevant.
If the outlet has had layoffs recently (within the last week) — don’t pitch them. We have a duty to clients to elevate their stories. But, we also have a long-term responsibility to nourish meaningful relationships with journalists. For those impacted by layoffs, pitching them now will be a tone-deaf move that will hurt the relationship in the near and long term.
Many reporters' beats have changed entirely, or been refocused on the ways COVID-19 and the economic implications have transformed our lives. Pay attention to these shifts in their focus. If a politics reporter is suddenly covering a healthcare system’s response, be a resource in helping educate the reporter. Don’t assume reporters know your client’s jargon and ensure your spokespeople skip the corporate speak and instead become useful, teaching sources.
And, like most everyone else, reporters have switched to virtual and remote work. Offer virtual experiences, photos and B-roll upfront, remote interviews and use technology you know works (as much as technology cooperates, at least).
The media landscape was tough before. It’s insane now. Even if your story is COVID-19 related, reporters are being inundated with pitches — some relevant; most not. Be upfront with your clients that placing stories right now will be very difficult, even with long-term relationships and the right story for the moment. Reporters only have so much bandwidth and only the most important - life impacting - news will be published.
And, news flash, this won’t end for the foreseeable future. COVID-19 will continue to dominate the news cycle as we search for a vaccine and cure. And, if 2016 is a guide, as we fully enter a general election cycle the news cycle will be consumed by election coverage for nearly every beat.
Don’t be afraid to strategize alternative tactics to optimize reach. Is it time to launch a paid digital campaign? Place an advertorial in a key trade publication? Use employee ambassadors to amplify a message?
While these times are hard, the room for innovation and exploring new ways to reach audiences has never been better. By keeping these tips in mind, you can engage reporters and clients in smart, balanced media relations.
Be scrappy and breathe. We will get through this.