How to Break Into the Current, Trending News Cycle

At no point in history has humanity been awash with so much content. Smartphones allow access to anything—shopping, fitness classes, breaking news alerts. Screens hang everywhere—airplanes, dentist offices, bathroom mirrors. And yes, bookstores and libraries and newsstands still exist for those who enjoy the feel of paper between their fingers.

One of the key goals for communicators on both sides of the fence—public relations AND media—is to break through the noise in order to get your client, product or story noticed and recognized. While it's easy for someone to demand, “let’s make this go viral!”  there’s no magic wand to make such relevance happen. Practitioners can start with the basics of good writing and constructive conversations, but where should they go from there?

Breaking into the news cycle can seem like a daunting task at times, but there are some simple ideas to take into consideration.

If You Fail to Plan, You Plan to Fail

This may be an old saying, but it still makes a lot of sense. At the beginning of the year, marketers and communicators often set out to create a content plan that they adhere to through the following months. Some are successful. Others get bogged down in the day to day, and content plans go to the wayside.

Do yourself a favor and take the time to plan. Shut off email for an hour a day. Set Slack to away. It doesn’t have to be a fancy bullet journal of ideas. It can be a simple list of months, dates and concepts, or even just the exercise of jotting something down on paper.

Planning in advance for things like holidays or sporting and entertainment events can get the ideas flowing and avoid a last minute rush of sub-par content ideas to sources. Rachel Harrison, co-founder of Lion & Lamb Communications, hurdled the news cycle during tax season with a special promotion at her hotel client, Andaz.

“Knowing that tax season approaches every year in the April news cycle, we decided to do something to make tax season a little more fun,” Harrison said. “We brought an accountant-in- residence to the Andaz Wall Street hotel. Anyone that booked one of our suites during the first two weeks of April could book an appointment to get their taxes done for free. It was a fun way to connect to a stressful time.”

Hitch Your Wagon to Trending Topics…

When PR pros do this right, it’s like effortlessly floating on the current of a lazy river. Following trending topics on social media or in the news can be tricky, and requires a quick response game. However, making it part of a daily communications routine can reap many benefits. The best way to get started? Read.

“One of the most important habits to get into is reading the news,” Harrison said. “But not just reading it. (You need to) absorb it and connect what’s happening today with your clients.”

Finding topics that may be relevant to a client or brand can help ignite story ideas pertaining to that news cycle, or even somewhere down the road.

...But Don’t Force Relevance

There’s a gentle elegance in knowing how to infiltrate a trending news cycle without it seeming fake or forced. Pay attention and learn from others by reading hashtagged tweets on a trending topic. But stay aware—many brand trend-hopping goes awry when brands don't show the right empathy or misinterpret the trend that’s happening.

Back in 2011, beloved bakers Entenmann’s hopped on to the hashtag #notguilty on Twitter with a seemingly innocent post. However, the hashtag actually referred to the public’s outrage about the verdict in the Casey Anthony trial, the mother being found not guilty of murdering her 2-year-old child.

Dana Wollman, editor-in-chief of tech site Engadget, deals with a lot of tech brands trying to hop on to news cycles that have nothing to do with the product.

“The most egregious instances I've seen of PR people trying to capitalize on a news cycle are when they piggyback their tech pitches on events that have nothing to do with tech,” Wollman said. “ It’s especially egregious when said event is a natural disaster or some other emergency. We're tech journalists and we cover tech. Peg pitches to events in the tech world.”

Remember, it’s ok to wait for a news cycle to pass to get your story out there. Patience can be rewarded.