8 rules to follow for media relations in 2021

Experts share their inspiration and advice for finding earned media success in the coming year.

2021 earned media tips

The news cycle won’t be slowing down this year—and COVID-19 and the many crises attached to it will dominate headlines in outlets across the country. Digital publications continue to consolidate, reporters’ beats are changing and the U.S. political conversation continues to devour oxygen, despite a new administration.

So, what will be the key to success for earned media in 2021? Here’s what the experts have to say:

1. Double down on purpose.

Helping clients express their core values will be an essential task for communicators and PR pros in the year ahead, Michelle Mekky, CEO and founder of Mekky Media Relations.

“I think that brands are looking for a way to cut through in a more meaningful way to get media coverage,” she says. “We found that that includes trying to express values of what they’re doing with diversity and inclusion or how they’re making a difference.”

Focus on human stories behind the brand to find uplifting narratives that can offer an antidote to the tough storylines that continue to dominate national news. “We get brands that come to us and say, ‘What do we need to do to be viral?’” she says. Her answer is to find that authentic story that might be occurring in the background of your organization.

2. Refine your media list.

Don’t let your contacts grow stale in a rapidly changing media landscape.

Media lists can easily become expansive and outdated,” says Ronn Torossian, founder and CEO with 5WPR.  “If you haven’t stayed on top of your lists, you may find yourself pitching someone who no longer covers that beat or now focuses on a niche topic not related to your story.”

Make sure your pitch finds the right inbox by doing your research ahead of time. “By cleaning and refining your list, you’re more likely to send a pitch to someone who will cover your story, as well as save everyone the aggravation of sending an off-topic email,” Torossian says.

3. Give it time.

Media relations, when done right, is a long-term process and should involve small wins that build toward an overarching goal. For PR pros, that means working hard to set clear client expectations.

“Yes, there will be situations in which you may be able to garner media coverage in a shorter time frame, but a longer-term effort may be required to get the results clients really want,” says Michelle Garrett, owner of Michelle Garrett Public Relations. “It’s a good idea to set their expectations accordingly.”

Taking your time means making the effort to build a relationship with a media outlet and working to pitch the right reporter. Email e-blasts are not emblematic of a patient approach.

“Build relationships with journalists and publications,” Garrett advises. “Follow them on social media, share, like and comment on their work. They do take notice of that. Engage them in conversation when you can. Sometimes, it’s a good idea to remember they’re humans, too, and like to chat about things outside [of] work.”

One great place to have a conversation about something other than work? Garrett recommends Twitter.

4. Embrace new media formats.

Media pros have unique opportunities right now to book TV guest slots via Zoom interviews or find podcasts that are looking for guests to make an appearance.

“A local Chicago television interview can now become national,” explains Mekky, revealing how the pandemic has extended the reach for some brands and PR managers. “A brand who might have thought they only have the budget to pitch in Chicago can now go to any market, because they could be interviewed on Zoom.”

“Podcasts are continuing to grow in popularity and even traditional media outlets are constantly evolving and introducing new formats to attract eyeballs that can potentially provide new opportunities for your brand,” says Kim Willsher, director, Los Angeles, for Red Lorry Yellow Lorry.

“In these challenging times, it’s never been more important to keep on top of the evolving media landscape,” she says.

5. Make yourself available.

One of the most important ingredients for success in any endeavor is whether you show up. For PR pros, making yourself available in a fast-paced news environment will make you a go-to resource.

“With breaking news happening daily across a variety of industries, journalists are turning out content at record rates with short deadlines,” says Torossian. “Making yourself available for comment, or having a story angle ready to go, will put you at an advantage when the moment presents itself. With this, it’s important to monitor the media and stay up-to-date on current events.”

6. Pay attention to diverse representation.

Many outlets are looking for help in highlighting spokespeople and subject matter experts from diverse backgrounds. PR pros that can help find these underrepresented voices are more likely to find success in the months to come.

“Many reporters are particularly keen to hear from spokespeople from diverse backgrounds, so it’s worth revisiting your roster of spokespeople and assessing how diverse it is,” says Willsher.

“If it’s largely made up of white males, consider who else could speak on your organization’s behalf and invest in developing them as spokespeople. When reporters have several different sources to choose from, if you can offer someone from a diverse background who can offer a more diverse perspective, it might just give you the edge to clinch that interview or executive profile piece.”

7. Be flexible.

In a business oriented around people and human relationships, pros must be able to adapt to the whims and preferences of different personalities. That’s especially true for connecting with reporters—there’s not one tactic that will work for everyone. Some will prefer to be contacted on Twitter while others would like a phone call. (For the record, we at PR Daily prefer email).

“I had a team member who was able to find a reporter and ask: ‘Hey, can I just jump on the phone with you and talk to you about this?’” says Mekky. In that instance, a phone call was able to provide the PR pro essential insights on what the journalists was writing about and how she could help offer sources without going several rounds on email.

8. Authenticity trumps polish.

With video content, offering an authentic presence or story trumps having superior production values, though Mekky argues there is a minimum that should be observed.

“Stations are even saying to us, ‘We can’t send a camera out to you, but if you just shoot on your iPhone and send us the footage, we may be able to use it,’” she says.

Media relations has changed during COVID-19 and production quality requirements have shifted. “They really are just in need of good content and it doesn’t need to be perfect,” she says.

What do you see as essential for successful media relations this year?

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