Great public relations revolves around spotting opportunity and capitalizing on it when you see it. The problem, is that we often don’t see it. We’re too busy in the trenches to look up and notice what’s going on in the world around us — the one that is constantly talking and driving conversation. Interesting stories are at our disposal everyday when we sit down and open our computers or swipe right on our smartphones.
It’s our jobs, as PR professionals, to identify opportunistic PR and take advantage of it. With a touch of creativity and strategy, you can catch an already trending news topic and ride on its coattails. Whether it’s crafting a story around internal data or offering up insight through the eyes of a framework engineer, opportunities are out there. If you can learn to spot the right news trend, at the opportune time, and craft a promotional angle that also adds value to journalists, you my friend, earn the title of PR master.
So how do you make magic happen?
For the first 18 months of my career, I reluctantly started my morning with the Daily News Report — a summary of top industry headlines. Did I enjoy doing it? No, not really (in fact I complained about it frequently!), but it kept me on top of relevant news and forced me to understand how trends developed. I got a sense for which types of conversations boiled over and which simmered out. Most importantly, I learned that news moved fast and if you wanted a piece of it, you had to identify a way in and make your moves quickly.
Rule #1: Make the world around you your business
Set aside 20 minutes to scan the news at the beginning and end of every day. Be on the hunt for budding conversations, or as I like to put it, ‘get your goonies’ on. If you can make reading the news a routine, you’ll never miss out on an opportunity to latch on to a relevant story and ride the coverage wave.
Once this becomes habit, you’ll eventually start to develop a feel for what news tends to go viral and what news falls flat. Put on your ‘think outside-of-the box hat ‘ and ask yourself if there’s a brand-friendly story angle that would add value to a reporter, and ultimately their readers. It’s not about trying to spin a weak story out of every headline you read — that will get you nowhere. It’s about identifying a relevant news cycle that will add value to the company you’re representing and the people who are digesting the content.
Rule #2: Know what’s in your tool belt
There are multiple ways you can enter a trending conversation. Do you have significant data that is relevant to the topic or people who can add insight? Knowing this information will allow you to 1) easily see the pathway into the conversation and 2) once you’ve identified it, act on it quickly.
Let me give you an example.
It’s summer of 2013 and the company that I worked for made a product that located lost or stolen phones. At the time, phone theft across the US was just beginning its upward trend — smartphones were finally reaching the tipping point. Millions of people were walking around with $500 devices in their pockets, naturally painting a target for thieves. Every other week there was news of crimes committed over smartphones, and separately, the actions government was taking to combat them.
Ding. Ding. Ding. This was a winning conversation! We had unique data to paint the picture, spokespeople who could add value to the discussion, and an award-winning story. The story was the key piece of the equation. We had recently set-up an alert system with our customer support team. With the permission of the user, they forwarded on any user experience stories that were shared. Through this program, we were introduced to a story of a woman who was held at gunpoint for her smartphone. Using our app, she worked with police to track down the thief, which eventually lead to his conviction.
Not only did we have a customer willing to go on record saying our app saved the day, but the story told the right message at the right time: thieves would not prevail because there were people out there who cared about protecting phones, and ultimately the people carrying them. That day, we were those people and it paid off!
Over the course of one week, we secured hundreds of broadcast hits in top markets throughout the country and drove an increase of product downloads.
We were successful because we:
- monitored the news daily and recognized an emerging trend
- made ourselves aware of what assets were at our disposal and crafted a value-add story
- nailed the timing and entered the conversation right when it was taking off
Rule #3: Timing Matters
Like in many things PR, it’s not just about crafting a compelling story, timing is also key. If you’re too late to the punch, reporters have already covered the topic to death and are onto the next best thing. The goal is to catch reporters in the story development phase. If your pitch hits a reporter’s inbox when they’re still collecting information to support a story, your value-add to the reporter is greater (assuming your angle is strong). That’s when you drop your seed in the flowering pot and watch it grow.
This is where a well-kept master media list comes in real handy. If you’re working within a limited period of time, the last thing you want to be caught doing is scrambling for the right contacts at target publications. Keep tabs on the reporters who are most likely to cover your brand so when that perfect news cycle comes around, you’ll have all you need to capitalize.
So there you have it. Hijacking a news cycle certainly isn’t easy, but if you can master the skill, these initiatives can add immense value to your brand. Crafting your way into an already trending topic makes what you’re preaching relevant. If it’s a trend people are already watching, the opportunity for widespread visibility is knocking at your door.