Breaking News & Keeping Your Client In the Story

So you know your client has something to say about X topic that is in the news. You’ve done due diligence with reporters who cover the topic but have yet to gain traction. And then your big break: breaking news. The scramble ensues. Is our spokesperson ready? Where are they? How about customers? We need new talking points, now!

A few rounds of issues response can be very fruitful and indeed put you on the journalist’s radar. During the next breaking news, they are more likely to call you. Unfortunately, the scramble is unavoidable but let’s assume you’ve been through it a few times and have a good head start. After leading a lot of media-heavy campaigns like this, we always return to one challenging hurdle: keeping our client in the story.

As our friends at The Bad Pitch Blog spent time discussing recently, it is always hard to make sure your client stays in the story. There are some really excellent suggestions in here that I recommend everyone read. In breaking news situations, it gets trickier. You have less time to respond and prep, more frantic reporters/producers and one shot to prove you’re worthy enough to be part of the story. After experiencing successes and disappointments over the year, I’ve collected a few pieces of advice:

- Know the breaking news inside and out and make sure your spokesperson does to. It will make it easier for them to give timely, relevant and quotable sound bites.
– Negotiate nicely. In your initial conversation with reporters and/or producers, you can say things like “Ok, we can do that, but I’d only ask that you [print the name of the product, give us a credit, etc.]” It’s never a guarantee, but at least you’ve put it out there and it rarely turns someone off. They know it's your job.
– Be ready with high-quality photos. Have them at your fingertips to send to producers and reporters. Surprisingly, not everyone is able to get it together under a deadline; if you’re the only one who sent in a great image, you’ll likely stay in the story. Make sure you get a company credit on image.
– Think like journalists. We rarely have to deal with the immense pressure of media deadlines in our jobs. But when you are working with someone on a day-of deadline, try to pretend you’re in their shoes. Ask all the right questions up front, think ahead, keep the back and forth to a minimum, and be fast. They will appreciate this and give you points for having your act together. Understand that they may not be able to meet all your requests - they have to comply with time/space limits - but simply try to compromise and remain polite. The majority of the time, between being easy to work with results in coverage for your client… and increases the chance they’ll call you when the next story breaks.

Here’s a recent example of work we did with ABC World News and client Thermo Fisher Scientific in response to the Shrek glasses recall from McDonald’s Happy Meals.