On a beautiful Kentucky day in October 2019, we sat in our office, eyes glued to the TV, watching as wildfires rushed towards the Reagan Library in California’s Simi Valley. We couldn’t believe what was happening. We had visited the Reagan Library not long ago and were horrified to think about the possibility that countless Presidential artifacts could soon go up in flames, lost forever.
Suddenly, we realized: one of our clients at the time – a cloud-based platform for art inventory and management – had a useful connection to the situation we saw unfolding on TV.
We quickly put together a short pitch (the exact pitch we used is copied below) and started sending it out to a list of highly targeted reporters.
Our intention had been to get our client quoted in news coverage of the wildfires and the threat the fires posed to important collectibles. What resulted was far better than that.
Our pitch caught the interest of Paul Sullivan, the ‘Wealth Matters’ columnist for The New York Times. Over the next ~month, with much back-and-forth, Paul put together a terrific column featuring our client (and some of our client’s clients and industry colleagues).
This was a hugely successful newsjacking effort and, as such, it can remind us all of some very valuable PR lessons.
Lesson 1: Paying attention to the news pays off.
We regularly have the news on TV in our office, and we’re constantly checking our favorite news sites online. We view it as an essential part of our job to know what’s going on in the news – globally, nationwide, and within each of our client’s industries – at any given point in time.
If you don’t know what’s going on in the news, you’ll have a harder time getting yourself or your clients into the news. Sure, your company can create its own news – but if that’s all you’re doing, you’ll miss out on valuable opportunities to position yourself as an expert and a leader in your field.
Lesson 2: Know who your target reporters are, at all times.
We had pitched Paul Sullivan previously about this particular client. We understood what he wrote about, and we knew it was likely that he’d have an interest in our client and their work – at some point. The same is true of the other reporters we pitched in conjunction with the CA wildfires. Essentially, we had a well-researched and developed list of target reporters that we could draw from quickly, without wasting time figuring out which contacts would realistically be interested in our pitch.
Keep up with key reporters in your space. Read their coverage regularly. Follow them on social media. Be aware of any job or coverage beat changes. Staying on top of this information will put you in a better position to reach out quickly when the opportunity to do so arises.
Lesson 3: Learn how – and when – to act quickly.
This one comes down to practice and experience – but learning how and when to act quickly will benefit you tremendously when you’re trying to capitalize on breaking news stories.
In our example, we made the decision to pitch our client, wrote the pitch, and were sending it out to reporters probably within 30 minutes of first seeing the news break on TV. It’s not always possible to act this quickly – but, we had a few things going for us.
We had recently pitched our client around a topic related to art and natural disasters, so we could pull language from that pitch and adapt it accordingly. We had also been working with this client for a while and had developed a good sense of our client’s general availability and ability to respond to inquiries quickly. And finally, our years of experience working in PR left us comfortable with our quick assessment that this was a good opportunity to jump into the breaking news story.
Put yourself in a position to act quickly, whenever the need to do so arises. Develop a solid understanding of your client, their company, and their work. Know what topics they can speak to without needing pre-interview prep. Get familiar with their scheduling needs (i.e. can their days typically accommodate immediate requests for media interviews?).
Also, know your own work well. Maintain your lists of target media contacts. Keep track of pitch topics you’ve used previously. And, trust your gut when you’re wondering if you should newsjack. If it feels off to try and jump into a news story, don’t do it. Hold off until another, better opportunity pops up – which it will. (More on that here.)
The Pitch That Got One Client into The New York Times:
Subject: As Wildfires Rage, Collectors Focus on Protecting Valuables
Hi [REPORTER NAME],
With wildfires in CA currently threatening the Reagan Library, national attention is being drawn to the horrendous possibility of valuable – and, sometimes, invaluable – collectibles being destroyed in a natural disaster.
As natural disasters continue to increase in both frequency and severity, it’s essential that institutions and individual collectors are prepared with proper documentation about their collected items, so as to protect their financial investment.
Art collector and entrepreneur [CLIENT NAME] learned this the hard way when disaster hit his own home. [NAME] lost part of his art collection to a major flood, after which he realized he didn’t have the necessary documentation needed by his insurance company. This experience led [NAME] to co-found [CLIENT COMPANY NAME].
With this background in mind, and in the context of California’s ongoing wildfires, would you be interested in a conversation with [NAME]?
I’ve included additional background information about [COMPANY] below.