You’re charged with helping your company’s thought leader shout his grand idea from the rooftop and media relations seem like the best PR strategy to disseminate your messages far and wide. You’ve done your research, found relevant journalists, and even sent tailored pitches. And then, silence.
What’s going on? They should be bombarding you nonstop with interview inquiries. They must be crazy or slothenly – or both. But most likely, that’s not the case. And it’s not that your idea is bad either; it’s lost in what I call “Evergreen Limbo” (cue “X-Files” theme song).
To understand Evergreen Limbo, you must understand the current media landscape. Presently, there are 4.6 PR pros to every one journalist. That means many journalists can get upward of 300 pitches per day. So even if you pitch the right journalist with the right offer at the right time – and even if they think your pitch is interesting enough to write about – your story may still never see the light of day.
The journalist might flag your email with the best intentions to return to it later. But then his editor will send an urgent request, telling him to write about a political candidate’s latest crude remark. After that, he’s tasked with writing about the just-announced merger of Sugar Corp. and Dental Implant Inc. (talk about vertical integration). The cycle continues until your big idea is forgotten, along with many other similarly interesting – but not immediate – stories. In short, it’s just not news.
So how do you break out of Evergreen Limbo?
Make Your Big Idea = News
Find a way to make your story a priority. Journalists’ highest priority is covering things happening right now or things that have significant implications today. Instead of pitching your idea as a stand-alone story, think about how your thought leader’s expertise can contribute (but add something different) to the ongoing conversation of that current newsy topic.
For example, your big idea is on how artificial intelligence will become the most impactful innovation of the 21st century. In the news, you read that Apple is holding their developer conference. You then pitch your thought leader to speak on how artificial intelligence can play into Apple’s long-term strategy. In that way, your idea becomes more than just an idea. It becomes a critical perspective on a timely topic and gives the journalists a unique and interesting angle.
Don’t Force It
As much as you should challenge yourself to draw associations between what’s going on in the news and your own ideas, you need to be realistic about when the connection just isn’t there. Nothing will ruin a relationship with a journalist faster than an off-target pitch. So if you’re positioning an expert in behavioral economics, don’t blow your relationships trying to pitch his views on the latest breakthrough in particle physics.
The Law of Diminishing Media Returns
If you’re reading a story that you know your experts can contribute to, your time to reach out to media is ticking. As mentioned earlier, a journalist’s priority is something happening right now; if it takes you two days to put your thoughts together, all the stories will have been written and the media will have moved on.
For most trends, you have a window of about 35 hours before it becomes old. The sooner you conduct outreach in that time, the better your chance of success.
Give the Scoop to Someone New
Say you just bought a new car. You sign the paperwork, get behind the wheel, crank up your favorite Abba song and start to pull off the lot when a different car salesman calls you, pitching a deal for a similar car at a similar price. You decline and hang up, but immediately your phone rings again, and again and again. It’s a deluge of calls all offering what you already have and you’re stuck wondering how your number ended up on the “desperate car salesman” list.
The same holds true with journalists. When you’re pitching a topic, don’t just approach those you know have already covered it, sending pitches offering what they’ve already got. You need to find the journalist likely to be interested in the story who has not yet published anything on it. This means they are either currently writing the story and you can jump in for expert commentary, or better yet, you can tip them off and work with them to help shape their article. It’s more work, but you definitely don’t want to be put on the “desperate thought leader” list.
Rinse and Repeat
Remember the old adage, “media begets more media”? Well, that’s about the only “old” thing in media relations that still rings true. Once you get your dream placement, don’t pump the brakes. Find the next topic and start the process over again. Journalists will see that article, identify your expert as a credible source, and more opportunities will likely come his (and your) way.
For more lessons in marketing thought leadership, check out this e-book.