By Lily Bowen
Editors and reporters continue to heavily rely on PR professionals for quick access to experts, including lawyers, while running on tight deadlines and working toward an unending stream of stories. Early on in the pandemic — during March and April in particular — local, national and global newsrooms shifted their coverage to being nearly exclusive of the COVID-19 public health crisis and its economic, social and political impact. Now, while the coronavirus pandemic still rages on in many parts of the United States and across the world, reporters have somewhat returned to covering their usual beats, while still writing through a COVID-19 lens.
Below are three tips for legal and other PR professionals to maximize success when pitching during the coronavirus pandemic, and for the foreseeable future. While there’s no exact recipe for a successful pitch, as timing and relevance will always be a factor, these strategies and considerations can help elevate attorneys as top expert sources for reporters.
Double Check Their Beat
It goes without saying that all PR professionals should be reading articles by target reporters before pitching them, but in the COVID-19 era, this step is even more critical. It can be tempting with the influx in interest and capacity for thought leadership from attorneys to pitch reporters through Cision, Muck Rack, Roxhill and other PR media databases and software. But, this would be a misstep. The pandemic has triggered layoffs, furloughs and restructuring at even the top business and trade publications.
PR professionals can greatly benefit from time spent double checking reporter beats through bio pages, Twitter or LinkedIn before sending out a blast press release or targeted pitch. Other websites like Talking Biz News can be especially helpful for tracking reporter moves to competitor publications, which are frequent in this economic climate and in the legal media, as this may mean transitioning to a new beat or searching for new expert sources.
Include COVID-19 Buzzwords in the Subject Line
Sometimes, as PR professionals, it can feel like we are pitching into a black hole. Days can go by without as much as a “thanks, but no thanks” from media. But, there’s a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. Feedback from a number of reporters across industries and publications has indicated that when a pitch is interesting but can’t be used right away, it’s filed away for later.
It’s important to work topic keywords into the subject line of a pitch for easy searching down the road. For example, using buzzwords like “COVID-19,” “Coronavirus,” “pandemic,” “FDA,” “CDC,” “remote work,” or “vaccine” could all prove fruitful down the line, particularly when a reporter is in a pinch. Now more than ever, PR professionals can secure opportunities for attorneys stemming from a months-old pitch that might have been disregarded.
Read the Room
As discussed in a recent LMA Podcast episode, “The Shifting Media Landscape: A One-on-One with Washington Business Journal Editor Michael Neibauer,” PR professionals need to read the room and consider what publications are covering right now, to avoid sending off-target pitches while the United States reels from COVID-19, as well as significant political and social unrest. At this point, several months into the pandemic, reporters (and readers) are facing a degree of pandemic news fatigue and are hungry for fresh content. It’s a great time to reach out to media with examples of innovation, new technologies, and unique examples of law firm management and leadership. With that said, the pitch still needs to reflect the times.
"[There is] a degree of pandemic news fatigue and [reporters] are hungry for fresh content. It’s a great time to reach out … with examples of innovation, new technologies, and unique examples of law firm management and leadership."
During the LMA podcast, Mr. Neibauer also raised the importance of offering diverse sources. Legal PR professionals should consider tapping leadership from minority and LGBTQ affinity groups, as well as women’s initiatives, to address hot-button legal issues in the media. When developing a pitch or setting up an introductory interview, legal PR professionals should aim to include more women and diverse attorneys in the conversation.
The COVID-19 public health crisis impacts every industry and sector of the U.S. and global economy. As newsrooms shift away from intensive pandemic coverage and begin to return to normal — or, at least, the new normal — PR professionals can achieve better pitching results by double checking beats and publication moves, emphasizing the COVID-19 angle and remaining sensitive to the hardships of many across the country and beyond.
Lily Katherine Bowen is a senior public relations specialist at Mintz, based in Boston. Prior to her current role, she worked at another Am Law 100 law firm, and formerly supported the Legal and Entertainment Groups of a leading public relations and strategic communications firm in New York City. She earned her MFA in creative writing from The New School.