By Maggie Linden
Senior Counsel, Summit Strategy Group
In less than four months, the Iowa Caucuses begin (!), several weeks earlier than ever before. That means that if you or your client has something important to say this fall or during the Christmas season, don’t expect it to be easy to get on a reporter’s radar. This is especially true on big debate days, days when there is court drama, or really any day when one of the candidates say anything buzzworthy. I didn’t say ‘newsworthy” because most of what candidates will be saying won’t be news; but in today’s chaotic media landscape, what passes for political news will still trump your story every time—pun intended.
In the age before social media, one ill-fated presidential hopeful announced his candidacy in Florida—his first stop on an East Coast flyover including New York and Washington DC. Press was gathered in Tallahassee ready to board the campaign plane. Literally, as they were boarding, the Space Shuttle Columbia in Cape Canaveral exploded. Everyone on the presidential announcement plane packed up, got off, and high-tailed up the coast. This was a classic example of a story getting ‘big-footed’ or what happens when one huge news story can overcome even a big story (that campaign never recovered). And as interesting as your news or client’s story may be, if you think that an overworked, over-emailed, and totally stretched reporter will notice it on the day of another indictment … you’ll be wrong.
So, what can you do to break through the news cycle? There are some tips you can employ to help navigate a successful story placement, especially because this campaign season is going to be front-loaded with debates, court cases and coverage from now through the end of the year.
Find a local angle. Even if your client is national – give social and traditional media a reason to cover it from a local angle. What does it mean to people in the real, local world? From Christmas trees to gas prices, say something about how, why, and what folks should know and how it’s relevant to them. Tempting the reporter or outlet with a local angle might just catch their eye and give your reporter an interesting lead. This is especially true if you’re looking for radio or television coverage.
Pamper reporters you know and please make it easy on everyone. Focus on one or two reporters who you can count on, “pre-sell” them and then give every reporter some “love.” What that means is providing them with some sizzle: pictures, graphics, and videos. Start with reporters you can count on but don’t stop there. In today’s media landscape, every single writer—from podcast hosts to bloggers to White House correspondent—is overwhelmed with content. Every one of them is looking for something easy to digest and easy to report. So, give it to them! Send a pretty picture, create an infographic, deliver a video. Any content they don’t have to develop themselves may spur coverage – and those you already have a relationship with may like you even more. And then, of course, if you get any hit, amplify it like it’s the front page of the New York Times!
Have a Plan B in case you don’t get a hit. Because it does happen. DO NOT just use email. Every blogger, writer, reporter says their inboxes are not the place to reach them. They get hundreds of pitches a day. Find a way to talk to them and then talk to them. If you have their phones, text them. If they are active on Twitter (X?), Tweet them. You must believe in what your selling – and the way you convey this is with a real conversation. But, then, should you fail, send follow ups, send new quotes, send flowers, send candy, send bourbon (kidding…not kidding). Following up even if they don’t bite may result in later coverage. Or they may even give you a second shot.
Of course, these tips apply to any story you’re pitching. But election years are just different; and this one is shaping up to be “more different” than any other. Given the press deluge of politics that is about to descend on us, the tips above might just help. But even they won’t compete with the crash of a Moon Shot or in this case, a Georgia courtroom. All I can say is “Lord, help us all!” and good luck!