How to practice media relations in a heavily political environment

There’s a lot for journalists to cover these days—in Washington and beyond—but PR pros can still engage with writers, editors and producers to cultivate alliances and land coverage.

With political coverage dominating the headlines, PR pros must recalibrate their media relations efforts to keep their clients’ brands part of the national conversation.

The media relations team at our PR firm recently met with journalists at six top national media outlets in Washington, D.C., to find out what has changed inside newsrooms in our nation’s capital. The journalists we met with work in a range of media outlets, from television networks to national newspapers to education and health care trade publications.

Regardless of outlet, the journalists all described the same general trends:

  • Politically motivated decisions. Beats and editorial decisions of the past are less certain right now as media outlets react to the ever-changing political climate.
  • Mobilizing the masses. An increasing number of non-political journalists are now being asked to report on politics. For example, health-focused journalists have an increased interest in covering Affordable Care Act stories, in some cases causing typical health/news features to get pushed aside.
  • It’s all so taxing. Journalists are exhausted by the unpredictable political climate and how it affects their daily assignments, but their hard work is paying off with TV ratings and newspaper subscriptions at some of their highest levels in years.

So, how do media relations pros compete in a volatile media climate?

  • Promote your best platforms. Focus on coverage that your brand is uniquely positioned to provide.
  • Stay on message. Not everyone is covering politics (even if it feels like it). This is where genuine relationships with core contacts pay off.
  • Spin your focus. If you can’t beat them, join them. Does your story have any political wrinkles? Does your client/organization have a position on the Affordable Care Act or other happenings on Capitol Hill? Even if you haven’t covered this type of story in the past, you can provide new resources and ideas to journalists who are hungry for anything related to current events.
  • Avoid the filibuster. During a major news event, we sometimes hold back on pitching. In this new world, it’s reasonable to anticipate the flow of political news will remain steady for months to come. Be strategic about where you pitch stories and how you position your message, and understand that earning media coverage is possible but might take longer than it has in the past.
  • Content counts. Newsroom staffs are maxed out, so make it as easy as possible for an outlet to cover your story. When pitching, offer everything that a journalist needs including research as well as high-quality video and photos.

Change is a constant in news, but the pace of recent developments and the sustained intensity surrounding politically themed content indicates a trend we can expect to dominate the coverage climate for weeks—if not months—to come. It’s important that we adapt if we want to remain part of the conversation.

Lisa Arledge Powell is president of MediaSource, named Best Health Care Agency from 2013-16 in Ragan’s Health Care PR & Marketing Awards. Connect on Twitter: @LisaArledge.

Topics: PR

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