The intricacies of targeting and pitching during a major event

HeadlinesIt almost goes without saying that a key component of any client’s story, and its accompanying pitch, is relevance – to the publication, its audience, to the journalist’s beat, and to the overall objectives of your public relations agency’s campaign. Assessing the relevance of an angle to a target publication can at times be a hit-and-miss process: a publication that has covered a similar story before may not want to repeat it, whereas a journalist looking to write about a topic perfect for your client’s input may not have dealt with the topic before.

However, there are times (and the past couple of weeks are a prime example) when the news agenda can, without warning, suddenly shift focus to a single major event. When situations such as the death of Margaret Thatcher or the tragic events at the Boston Marathon occur, they quite understandably dominate the headlines and this in turn affects the way the top PR agencies manage their efforts.

Such media focus on a single event can present an interesting challenge for PR professionals, as it creates a short-term period where one can comfortably predict what will be on the news agenda of most outlets for the upcoming days or weeks. More often than not this means that media release dates are pushed back, both out of respect and for the simple fact that journalists are going to be busy trying to react to these new developments.

But as an event unfolds, demand for related content rises, journalist requests come in, and the opportunity for PROs to create and place relevant content makes itself apparent. However, to act upon such opportunities is not without its risks and should be considered carefully first.

Getting it right can generate an engaging and highly relevant piece that taps into the public’s heightened interest and presents the client as in-touch with current events. For instance, this infographic analysis of social media activity following the death of Margaret Thatcher from online media monitoring and PR software company Meltwater, is a great example of an interesting insight into a very public event. Demonstrating the social media monitoring ability of its software, Meltwater’s eye-catching infographic breaks down what Thatcher represented to people in different parts of the UK. Having tracked related posts made in the three hours following the announcement of her death – approximately 900 a minute – Meltwater highlighted the most common terms associated with the UK’s longest-serving Prime Minister, broken down by location. Thatcher meant different things to different people, but the results show that Cornwall most associated her with the Falklands, south Wales her political ties to Ronald Reagan, and the south west of Scotland with her notorious “milk snatcher” moniker. The infographic was shared to Meltwater’s 5,700 followers and picked up on a number of social media blogs, including Brand Republic’s The Wall Blog.

Getting it wrong though runs the risk of bringing seemingly nothing of worth to the debate, and making the client appear irrelevant. Take this release from personal finance comparison website (or their PR agency) as an example. Whilst a competent history lesson on how Thatcher’s policies affected the personal finance market, this is effectively information that’s over twenty years old, and it is only supported by a wishy-washy quote from an anonymous spokesperson. It comes across as a weak attempt at linking what’s current with compareandsave’s own personal agenda. The fact the release appears to have generated little coverage (at least not enough to warrant the fee of sending it out on a newswire) is surely testament to this.AD week

But far worse than an article not creating debate is for it to appear insensitive and thereby create a negative backlash. Advertising, media and technology magazine, Ad Week, found this out after posting an article [pictured right] on why automated tweets put brands at risk should a tragic event occur.

Whilst the article’s argument does hold some weight – Twitter users glued to their screen for real-time updates on an event in progress probably won’t look kindly on tweets flogging the wares of corporations – the fact it was published with a headline deploring insensitivity, and at a time when news reports from the tragedy in Boston were still coming in, is more than a little ironic as many of Ad Week’s twitter followers noted. The article has since been taken down, but the damage to Ad Week’s reputation, along with accusations of insensitive newsjacking, had already been done.

The examples above show the intricacies involved in making sure the correct approach is taken when discussing events that are so prominent in the public consciousness. Yes the opportunity to gain great coverage is there, but it requires a thoughtful and conscientious approach, otherwise it runs the risk of causing more harm than good.