And it is much harder than it used to be.
At one time in my career, I could predict earning at least 5 “hits” for a SME campaign. Hits being earned media coverage. Whether it was print, radio or tv; local or national. I say predict, because it wasn’t a guarantee, but I could confidently speculate the number of reporters and media that the story angle would likely appeal to. I consistently earned client coverage across Canada, coast to coast, a few hits in the USA and some Internationally.
But in 2008, the publicity game started to change – reporters were being shuffled, there were massive layoffs due to buy-outs. Media outlets were shutting down because of decreased readership and ad revenue. Fewer reporters meant fewer amount of contacts we could outreach to.
And this is where PR becomes a numbers game. How many reporters do you need to ‘target’ to earn coverage?
Well, it’s more complicated then that.
Then media outlets started to shuffle WHAT they were reporting on. ‘Local’ became a big mandate for everyone. Which is great if you have a local story but for those West Coast businesses trying to get coverage in the East Coast, your chances of getting a ‘hit’ just became one degree harder.
At one time, if you did have a great local story – 90% of the local media would do something. Now, because there are fewer media outlets overall, the ones that did survive the downturn want exclusives – they don’t want to do the same story as their competitor, so you need multiple local angles. Multiple angles are hard for a SME. Great for events though.
Your changes also decrease if you are trying to pitch something that doesn’t exactly match a section’s focus or a reporter’s assigned beat. Or the story doesn’t personally interest or resonate with the individual reporter or editor.
The big game changer came with the increase in use of wire services – that is when media outlets pick up stories off of such services such as Reuters, Canadian Press, Postmedia News because the editors just don’t have the number of reporters needed to fill their pages/air time (again layoffs due to budget cuts) and a wire story is cheaper than hiring a reporter.
There is a pro here though too: If one reporter writes a story that get’s picked up by their parent company’s wire service the story could run in multiple outlets across Canada. It’s like a 2-for-1 situation, or in some past client cases 5-for-1.
In some cases media outlets are running 70% wire copy and only 30% local stories from their own writers (note: this is not an official number but rather what I’ve subjectively observed and it does depend on the individual media outlet). Add another huge degree of “harder”.
But I still say HARDER not IMPOSSIBLE.
Earning media coverage requires things like timing, a strong angle, good numbers, a fantastic human-interest story – call it increasing your publicity odds. It also requires being prepared to react with press materials, interviews, or whatever else is needed to make the story happen. You have a short window so if you aren’t prepared then it will sink the campaign instantly. It’s a complicated mixture that results in having good “media instincts” and being dedicated to the process – what you pay a PR professional to have and what the client needs to be.
But reality is for a lot of SMEs, they don’t have overtly strong angles or news regularly. There might be pretty good “blips” on the radar but overall the angle is not urgent. Most common blip is a launch of some sort.
Which is why I repeatedly say to clients that it requires a long-term approach. Nowadays it takes more than one campaign. I suggest multiple campaign strategies – two to three angles that appeal to a different target audience, an opportunity to pitch a variety of sections over a time period.
What is long term? I now say a minimum of 6 months. I prefer to work with SME clients for 1 year, 2 to 3 campaigns in order to get some traction. A lot of times during our competitor research stage, I can see that competitors have amassed coverage over 2-3 years so if you really want to make a good publicity dent, media outreach should be something that is a regular, ongoing portion in your PR strategy.
And how much press should you expect to receive? I don’t believe anyone can predict that anymore. When I talk to colleagues they say the same thing and in the same shrug-the-shoulders-kinda-way, “we think X should be interested but you know, all it takes is something else to come up.”
The key is to ask the PR practitioner about their most recent experiences with the same type of client, using a similar strategy, because the media industry changes so fast now that what the firm or individual achieved 2 or 3 years ago simply does not translate to today.
Reality is, and always has been, media have the final say whether they run a story or not. No one – not one PR firm or individual can guarantee media coverage. As the saying goes “If you want a guarantee then buy an ad”.
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