It’s one year since the first UK lockdown, when businesses of all shapes and sizes were forced into remote working overnight. While Battenhall has been practising remote and flexible working since we started in 2013, and now operates a total flexible working model, the recent widescale shift got me reflecting on what aspects of PR agency life have changed so much in the past 12 months.
One part of the job that has altered considerably is media relations. The landscape has altered radically and the way in which brands and agencies interact with media. There has been a shift in the nature of the flak/hack relationship, along with the opportunities for coverage, content sensibilities, and much more.
Having joined Battenhall at the start of the pandemic, I wanted to share some of the flexible and agile approaches we’ve taken during this incredibly challenging time.
At the forefront of our thinking from the start was understanding the changing needs of the media and their ways of working. Through doing that we were able to to maximise positive coverage and drive conversations for the brands we work with.
Here are my top tips for conducting media relations and pitching in the new normal...
1. The ADC test
Over the past year it’s been vital to ensure our pitching passes the ADC test, which stands for authentic, distinctive and credible. The ADC test was taught to me early in my career and is very much our approach at Battenhall.
When pitching it’s essential to always consider the authenticity of the story, whether your pitch is distinctive, and if your spokesperson is credible as an authority on the topic. Simple and effective checks like these are particularly beneficial and crucial to remember during turbulent times.
2. Newsjack, newsjack, newsjack!
The global media landscape is changing rapidly and speed is of the essence. Quick turnaround comments and interview opportunities can sometimes be tricky, but it’s always worth contacting journalists who have covered a topic to set up a briefing or interview with a spokesperson. It can open up a conversation with a publication and lets them know you have an expert available for future commentary. It can even lead to follow-up stories or getting a comment added to an updated version of an article. It’s particularly useful with freelance writers, where there is the flexibility to work on a number of stories across a variety of publications.
3. Call me, maybe?
Calling a media news desk isn’t often my go-to approach, but with fewer staff in offices you can almost guarantee any journalist’s number you call goes to voicemail. Someone is usually manning the news desk, however, and speaking with them can provide invaluable insights into what their news agenda is, what was discussed in editorial meetings, as well as any contacts they think the story may be suited to. It’s hardly cutting edge PR, but sometimes it’s good to talk.
4. “Ok Google… Give me some good news”
There’s been no shortage of bad news over the past year and securing coverage for clients has been more challenging than ever. Having something positive to say, or pitching a feel-good story, however, provides a great opportunity to get feedback and stand out from the crowd. Even if it doesn’t result in coverage, it can often open up a new channel of communication, and puts you in a stronger position for future pitches.
5. Be tactful
The pandemic has brought us together in many ways, but it’s essential to remain sensitive and human in your communications, as you never know what someone might be going through on a personal level. It’s a good idea to acknowledge we’re living in a health crisis so your communication doesn’t seem clumsy. At the same time, try not to force a connection between your story and the pandemic – if there’s no logical link, you should steer clear.
6. Knowledge is power
Research is vital. Useful tools are available on PR databases such as Roxhill and Cision. It feels like we have each listened to a lifetime's worth of webinars and podcasts this year, but they really can be helpful. Reach out to journalists that you’ve developed relationships with and ask them what they’re looking for at the moment (rather than idly pitching).
Staying on top of the news agenda is also essential for a couple of reasons: first, in case there is breaking news that might render your pitch meaningless or insensitive; second, to best understand where a story might be placed that day. If you think you have a better chance of landing coverage by pushing pitching back by a day or two, chat with your colleagues and relay your recommendations to the client.
Earned coverage is exactly what it says on the tin — it has to be earned. It takes time, commitment and patience. But when it pays off, there’s no better feeling.