Following the funeral of Freddie Gray, Baltimore erupted into riots last night and into the early morning today, with a State of Emergency being declared and the National Guard called in. Across the country people have been watching the developments unfold, and those of us in PR have been watching with the knowledge that any other national stories we are pitching need to respectfully go on hold today.
So what do you do in the wake of a national news story or tragedy when your client has breaking news as well? Here are our top tips:
1. Set Expectations Immediately. Over the last 16 years in PR I have had to set a lot of expectations. From a fashion brand who planned for almost a year for a launch event on September 11, 2001, and awoke to find out that was not a possibility, to a boat show that had to break down before it opened because of an impending hurricane, there are times that things don’t go as planned.Even if it is simply a press release that was supposed to be distributed, the first thing I ALWAYS do is call the client. Forget e-mail – this is where you go from publicist to psychologist and talk things out with the client. Almost always there is a natural understanding, but it helps for them to hear your strong and steady voice ensuring them that their product/brand/news story, etc is going to be o.k. (Isn’t that all any of us ever want to hear?)
2. If You Can – Hold the Story. If you know that your client is going to miss out on coverage if you send a release today, don’t do it. 99.9% of clients will understand if their release needs to go out later in the week or even the following week, and most will be happy to know you understand the media landscape enough to make that recommendation. Everyone wants to believe their product or news is more important than anything else going on, but don’t budge if you know the timing just is not right. They pay you to know media relations better than they do! Remember that.
3. Think Outside the Box. A press release is one thing, but it is much harder to have a client reschedule an event or change a product launch date. If you and your client do choose to move forward, then think outside the box when it comes to pitching. Pitch locally, strategically and specifically. Pitch bloggers and niche outlets, and save the national news desks and features editors for another day. Let your client know that even if media does not attend the event, photos will be taken and sent with a post event wrap-up to create ongoing coverage.
4. Connect the Dots. If you are able to truly connect your client’s story to the national news, quickly draft a very sensitive pitch and e-mail or make some quick calls to your media contacts. Be brief and to the point, letting the editor/producer/reporter know you have a unique angle, an expert source, etc for them to consider as they pull together their coverage.
** We had a client who happened to be photographing the Boston Marathon at the time of the bombing in 2013. We were able to connect him with several national news outlets looking for on-site people to speak with. The media was overwhelmingly grateful that we came to them with a source so quickly, but we definitely stressed over the sensitivity factor. Be careful how you word your pitch, and you can become a welcome media asset! **
Hope that helps. Good luck out there!