If you work in PR, you’re probably under pressure from colleagues to get as much press coverage as possible. But what do you do when you don’t really have anything new to say? Perhaps you’ve just launched a big press campaign. Or a released a new report. Whatever the reason, if you’re struggling to find new angles to pitch..don’t panic.
Here’s eight ideas to help you break the dry spell...
1. Create a campaign
Most organisations I come across do zillions of interesting things, but unless you’ve got something to new to say you’re unlikely to attract journalists’ attention.
Launching a campaign about something you/your organisation feels strongly about can be a great way to get media coverage and can be as easy as throwing up a web page and creating a social media hashtag.
The Incorporated Society of Musicians has launched numerous campaigns - most of which have attracted press coverage and I recently edited this story for the Guardian about the National Association of Specialist College’s new campaign.
Obviously I’m not suggesting you start campaigns just to get press coverage; but if there is an issue you feel strongly about, it can be an effective way to influence change and raise your media profile.
2. Crunch some data
Most organisations I’ve worked with are sitting on - or have the means to create - valuable data that would be of interest to the media. For example, The Key - a support service for school leaders - has used its database of teachers to gather data on everything from child mental health to schools meals to the teaching of phonics (and a whole lot more) which has led press coverage in -amongst others - the Guardian, Telegraph, BBC and the TES.
Even if you don’t have access to your own data, consider how you could analyse existing data (such as government figures) to find new angles, like this BBC article which looks at the link between how many days of school holidays children get in different countries and how well they do at school. It’s fun, seasonal...and is a new twist on official Pisa figures (the international ‘league tables’)
3. Write a letter
Another effective way to attract media attention is to get a group of people (and this works particularly well with academics and researchers) to put their names to a joint letter to a newspaper on an issue of importance. This Guardian story about a group of academics claiming that the new national curriculum is dumbing down education is a good example.
Again, I’m not suggesting you organise joint letters purely to get media coverage. But if there’s an issue you want to raise, it can be a great way to influence change and grow your influence in the media.
4. Say something interesting
Even if you don’t have any news of your own, there’s no reason why you can’t pitch an opinion article that is ‘hooked’ onto a current news story (although do bear in mind that you need to move quickly and there’s more about pitching opinion articles here).
You don’t always need a news hook to pitch a comment piece. Journalists sometimes pick up on blog posts or articles published elsewhere as in this Telegraph story on a head teacher’s call for children to study no more than five subjects at school or this one calling for the school starting age to be delayed until six.
And if you (or a colleague) are speaking at an event, you can pitch a comment piece around something you will be saying there. But do bear in mind you need to have a strong ‘line’; editors aren’t generally interested in ‘fence sitters.’
5. Pitch a ‘how to’ article
You don’t always have to pitch ‘news.’ Editors are increasingly looking for other kinds of content - particularly online - and sharing your expertise can be a great way to get coverage for your client or organisation.
This article on things teachers need to know about the latest reforms to special needs legislation is a good example as is this ‘live chat’ on the Guardian’s Social Care Network (remember that content doesn’t always have to be written).
I’ve recently written a series of articles for the Guardian’s Small Business Network on how company owners can get more press coverage - which has achieved my objective of connecting with more small business owners.
6. Think creatively
It sounds harsh, but it’s always worth reminding yourself that journalists are not interested in your organisation or business - they’re interested in creating compelling content that will engage their audience.
So instead of trying to get journalists to write about your upcoming event or project (which they probably won’t be interested in, unless it’s really unusual) think about what you could offer them that will interest them and will allow you to get a mention for your organisation/client. It’s a subtle change in your approach (I think of it as ‘flipping’ the problem) but it can pay off in big ways.
This Daily Mail article about pink lego being to blame for girls’ lack of interest in science was an attempt to raise awareness of the Education Innovation conference. Journalists weren’t interested in writing about the event. But they were interested in what one of the speakers at the event had to say.
And this TES interview with David Baddiel came ahead of the Sunday Times Festival of Education; realistically speaking, there’s only so much a journalist can write about an event like this, but placing an interview with a speaker (see the mention at the end of the piece) can be an effective form of publicity.
7. Do a ‘personality’ test
What happens when someone puts the name of your organisation or business into Google? How many social media profiles does it appear on? Is the information up to date? Or are there inconsistencies between your website, social media platforms and the content your produce?
As a journalist, the first thing I do when I’m looking for someone/an organisation to talk to is Google them. All too often, I find websites/blogs that haven’t been updated, half-finished social media profiles, blogs that haven’t been updated for months…
If I’m looking for a specialist to interview on a particular subject, I’m much more likely to go for the one with the up-to-date LinkedIn profile, with examples of their work and them talking on video, than someone with a half-finished profile, Twitter feed or Facebook page they haven’t posted on for ages.
So if you find yourself with a bit of downtime, it’s a good idea to do an audit of your digital personality. Put yourself in the shoes of a journalist: how likely are they to contact you based on a Google search. Use what you’ve learned to make some improvements and you’ll be far more likely to get journalists calling you - rather than the other way round.
8. Set up meetings with journalists (remember freelancers are your friends)
Finding yourself with a bit of time on your hands is an ideal opportunity to set up meetings with journalists. While it can be hard to secure coffees and lunches with time poor staff journalists, freelancers are often more flexible and can sometimes be a better source of information/advice. Because most freelance journalists contribute to several media outlets, they can often give you an insight into how things work on several publications and programmes. And as their livelihood depends on developing brilliant stories (if they don’t get commissioned, they don’t eat) they’ll be much more amenable to spending time knocking pitches into shape.