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Public relations strategies that newspapers taught me

Public relations strategies that newspapers taught me

I get my news like everyone else these days: online, usually on my smartphone. But I did something different once: on impulse at the Hive office, I picked up an actual paper copy of Business in Vancouver (or as the cool kids call it, BiV).

As a local tech PR guy, I’m often looking at BiV’s articles online (particularly stuff by the intrepid Tyler Orton, who seems, some days, to be carrying the whole news cycle on his well-dressed shoulders). As I turned the pages, I was particularly chuffed to see a colleague, Artificial Intelligence Network of BC Executive Director Steve Lowry, featured in not just one, but two articles in the same paper. (Way to make me jealous, Steve.)

Let me tell you, it felt strange to be reading from actual newsprint, feeling the crisp paper between my fingers. Beyond the tactile experience, there was the remembrance of something important: newspapers don’t just pump out a news stream. They juxtapose the news of the day in a particular way. They use sections and categories to make sense of this particular moment in time.

It’s not just News with a capital ‘N’. For BiV, you’ve got tech (my favourite, of course). Real estate. Finance. Analysis, Insights, Courts… and then, special sponsored sections like the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade’s Sounding Board, which includes sub-sections covering a wide swathe: environment, resources, leadership, community, education, etc.)

All this might sound obvious. But taking the time to consider how BiV organizes the news, brought to mind some useful public relations strategies.

Knowing how a newspaper is organized builds public relations strategies

Go outside your usual circle of contacts. If you’ve been doing public relations for any length of time, you begin to develop attachments to certain reporters. The ones who ran with your clients’ story -- well, you go back to them, in hopes of repeating the old magic.

It’s a great idea -- but if you get too reliant on one reporter at a publication, you run a risk. What if they go on vacation just when you’ve got an important pitch coming out? Or they switch jobs -- not exactly an uncommon thing in media.

Don’t get complacent. Manage your risk by expanding your pitching circle for different categories.

Explore new categories where your pitch can find a home. Scan those other categories and see where your news pitch could, with a little tweaking, also be a good fit.

That general tech news pitch for a mortgage lending app or home renovation marketplace? It would also be great for real estate, wouldn’t it?

Or, take a HealthTech story I was pitching a few weeks back to tech-focused reporters. In that case, the founder of the company actually had a very compelling personal story -- an almost emblematic story of an immigrant who came to a land of opportunity and succeeded beyond most people’s wildest dreams.

Pitching that as a story of entrepreneurship rather than a pure tech play helped get the win, with a huge feature piece that looked great and got shared widely.

Find the unadvertised categories. Recently, my pitches for a new AI-powered platform were hitting a wall. “We don’t do product launches,” one editor said (They often do, but I wasn’t going to argue).

I started exploring their news site. In the past few months, their reporters had done a lot of ‘diversity and inclusion’-related stories. As it turned out, the team that had developed the AI tech were remarkably diverse, along with the rest of the company, which had just reached an official diversity target set years ago.

The publication didn’t actually have a specific ‘diversity and inclusion’ category, but it was clear that was an important focus for several of the staff. Pitch duly tweaked, we sent it off -- and traded rejection for redemption with another big feature.

To survive in PR, find your happy hunting grounds

“Survival of the fittest” is not being physically fit in the sense of feeling strong or agile. It’s about being the best fit for an ecological niche. The same rule applies in public relations: category is just another name for niche. Experiment with different sections of a news organization and you might find you’re not just surviving. You’re thriving.



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