From a PR perspective, political campaigns are a wild ride. As the news media landscape goes into hyperdrive near elections, PR efforts become harder and harder. Editors in every relevant media outlet start receiving multiple pitches daily, and the threshold for getting coverage for your story is higher than ever. Even local newspapers start rejecting interviews because their capacity is blown. At the same time, political parties expect their PR teams to deliver high-quality media hits every day.
When you are on your 80th work hour, 8th cup of coffee, and have had 0 luck in your pitching, it is easy to let frustration take over. However, there are ways to improve your chances of getting that front-page headline of your dreams. Following these three pointers will improve your chances of getting heard, both in politics and in your corporate PR campaign.
Quality over quantity
Getting headlines is almost everything that matters in political PR. Most undecided voters do not read past the headline, and stories below the top 8-10 on the online front page are rarely read. Even if it does pick up near significant events like elections, the click-through rate on political news is notoriously low. Especially younger voters between the ages 18 and 35 do not read news articles. That group is also most likely to be undecided about who to vote for. This means you often only have those 4-12 headline words and the picture to pique the reader’s interest and affect the public debate.
Quality of work is the way to achieve that bold black gold at the top of the page, and the same goes for your business press release. Pitching those five newsworthy stories is much more effective than throwing 50 half-baked ideas at a tired editor. A strong, pre-planned pool of topics helps because there is a much better chance you have pitches that fit with current affairs or hot trends. You never know what will happen next, but building your stockpiles of quality, newsworthy content means you are ready when it happens. All PR is not good PR, and spending valuable time on a story that goes straight into the archive isn’t worth it.
The right story to the right journalists
This is a key point for all PR, but political journalists have the best bullshit radars in the business. They are so used to getting over-pitched and under-sold that you have to make sure your angle is polished and relevant. Always use at least one relevant and current hook for your pitch, and make sure you are ready for follow-up questions. If you haven’t thought past your pitching email, they will know.
The best way to maximize your chances of a successful pitch is to do your research. Find media contacts with an interest in the topic you want them to write about. Go through your media list or do a deep search to find reporters that write about your topic. Most tier 1 media have their own units for topics like climate change or economic policy, and these reporters will be much more receptive to pitches in those focus areas. Unlike in business PR, being first is everything in political campaigns. This means offering exclusivity, so when you leave your precious creation in only one person’s hands, you make sure they are in the right hands!
The same principle applies to all PR campaigns. Finding media contacts whose interests are as close as possible to yours makes the pitching job much easier. Really narrowing your search will help you succeed. Journalists can have bios saying they focus on “business”, “finance” or even “startups”, but in reality, they may not have much interest in your exact area of operations. To put it bluntly, if your company works in fishing, don’t look for a journalist who writes about the ocean – find one who writes about fish.
This is the most important piece of advice I can give to anyone doing a PR campaign. PR professionals work hard in as hectic a time as an election campaign, but so do journalists. A pitch that falls through or a news piece that did not turn out the way you intended can cause a lot of frustration. Negative stories and attacks are lurking around every corner, and interviews never go exactly as planned. Many PR professionals have found themselves picking up the phone to tell their media contact exactly how they feel, but believe me, it’s not a good idea.
Journalists are people, and people like being treated with respect. If you are positive, friendly, and deliver good content, they are much more likely to hear you out. If you treat a reporter like a failing service provider, they will not give you the time of day. And most likely, they will also warn their colleagues about taking your calls. So like in life, treat people with respect, give them time to respond, and understand that rejection is never personal. An editor who likes you will read your next email too.