Pitching Media When a Breaking Story Dominates the News Cycle

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We’ve all been there. We set aside time on a specific morning to pitch our client’s big announcement only to find out the news is dominated by a major breaking story—like President Joe Biden announcing his re-election via a nostalgic video released at 6 a.m.

What do you do? It depends on the nature of the news and how grave or shocking it is.

Sometimes the breaking news on everyone’s mind is tragic or frightening. We have certainly lived through a rollercoaster of news stories over the past few years, from the murder of George Floyd to the COVID-19 outbreak to Russia invading Ukraine and, unfortunately, so much more.

Here are three questions to ask when deciding when to pitch, and when to hold off.

Is the Media Outlet and/or Reporter You’re Pitching Covering the Story?

If President Biden just announced his re-election, and what you’re pitching for a client is intended for political reporters, they are now covering this breaking news. Do not fire that pitch off.

If a school shooting happened in Atlanta and your pitch is intended for the education reporter at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, hold the press. You absolutely cannot pitch—for at least a week, if not longer.

However, if Biden just announced his re-election campaign and you’re pitching a byline about welding to a construction trade, you’re fine.

In a gray zone, let’s say another spy balloon is shot down over Phoenix, and you are pitching Bearizona to a lifestyle reporter at The Arizona Republic. Your suggestion for a “best things to do near the Grand Canyon this summer” roundup is probably fine. If you can wait a day or two before pitching, that's preferred.

Will You or Your Client Seem Tone Deaf?

Even if what you’re pitching has nothing to do with the breaking news and the reporters you are pitching would never cover the story, will you make your client look ignorant if you send out the pitch?

For example, if you send a gleeful and slightly silly pitch about a new lipstick color inspired by a Pixar movie when everyone is consumed by the news of a new war, virus, shooting, etc., it is best to let the mass consciousness settle a bit before you move forward.

It’s always important, as PR professionals, that we have a finger on the pulse of what the majority of people are thinking about and feeling on any given day. This helps ensure we’re in sync with where most people’s heads and hearts are at so we can better meet them where they are.

Will it Compromise Your Client’s Announcement if You Wait a Day or Week?

Finally, ask yourself whether waiting to pitch this announcement is going to compromise your ability to get coverage. If it doesn’t need to be pitched the same day as breaking news, definitely wait.

If it’s something that would be best to wait to pitch, but the client expects coverage sooner, explain to them that waiting would likely maximize their coverage, given the breaking news.

Whenever in doubt, wait.

If you fire off a pitch when everyone in the world, including your targeted list of reporters, is thinking about something else, you’ll waste your time and the client’s budget. And in a worst-case scenario, you’ll risk getting blacklisted or called out on social media by deeply offended reporters.

April White is CEO and Founder of Trust Relations.