Cristy Carlson | January 24, 2021
Some companies seem to generate news more naturally than others. If you’re Apple releasing the next iteration of the iPhone, you’re going to get tons of press. But if you’re a company that produces products that don’t often change, or your product is one small part of other, more-recognizable products, or you’re a service organization or nonprofit that doesn’t have a huge or fervent public following, it can be tough to pique the interest of news organizations.
Tough. But not impossible.
You need to flip your thinking on its head. Don’t start by asking how you’re going to make your product or service newsworthy. Start by asking what’s already being covered in the news and how you can augment that conversation. In other words, treat your knowledge and insight as a newsworthy commodity for the reporters doing stories on subjects you happen to know a lot about. Position yourself as a trusted thought leader.
Say you’re a business law firm, and a story about a high-profile altercation on an airplane appears in the news. If you have some folks on staff who are experts in these kinds of cases, or in aviation law more generally, have them share thoughts on the best ways companies can prevent and handle such incidents. Maybe that intellectual capital becomes a pitch to reporters covering the story. These writers might choose to publish your thoughts verbatim or, at a minimum, include your thoughts in an industry round-up piece on the topic. Even if they don’t immediately pick up your pitch, reporters might keep your expert in mind as a resource when a similar incident arises in the future.
The point is, if you have insight into current, newsworthy topics making headlines or trends and issues that people are already talking about, those are perfect opportunities to insert yourself into the news stream.
There’s value in being an expert. But a word of caution: Apply this tactic judiciously. There are too many examples of companies that have inserted themselves into discussions where they really have no place.
One of the worst offenses I’ve seen was when DiGiorno Pizza joined a conversation on social media following an incident where an NFL player was caught on videotape beating his wife on an elevator. There was a stream of conversation happening on the hashtag #WhyIStayed where women were talking about why they’d stayed in abusive relationships. Needless to say, the pizza company got into hot water when it joined the conversation with this post: #WhyIStayed You had pizza.
There are always opportunities to make the news. The key is knowing how to time your pitch and being aware of how your product, service or area of expertise complements trending issues and news-making events. Pay attention to what’s going on around you – locally, nationally and internationally – to identify topics you can provide insight about to help people understand what’s happening a little more deeply. If you focus more on educating instead of promoting your company, your chances for success and positive publicity will increase significantly.
Cristy Carlson is a senior vice president at Falls Communications. She spent more than a decade as a television journalist and, in her public relations career, has counseled Fortune 500 companies on both the agency and client sides. She also trains executives on how to handle high-stakes media interviews and crisis situations.