By Jackie Liu
A rite of passage for every PR professional is building a media list and researching appropriate reporters to cover their news. Nothing boggles the mind quite like narrowing down business reporters. Simply put, you can report on ‘the business of’ literally anything.
To pitch business press effectively, it’s important to understand their motivations as they struggle to adapt to the new realities of working in journalism. We already know, broadly speaking, what entices reporters to act. They want to break the news, gain access to key sources, investigate important stories, etc. But today, media relations have taken on new layers of complexity because long-held assumptions are slowly being erased. When you pitch a reporter, you hope to secure their interest in covering your news for one news publication – presumably the one where they work. That’s no longer the case, and the first thing we need to examine is the state of working in media.
In the U.S., local journalism is on life support. In June 2021, FiveThirtyEight reported that since 2004, more than 1,800 local newspapers have closed across the nation, and today, more than half of the daily newspapers in circulation in the U.S. are owned by a private equity firm or hedge fund. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic further decimated the industry, leading to furloughs and layoffs. Of course, this doesn’t even factor in natural attrition, as we know many reporters cross over to working full-time in PR and academia.
Fewer outlets mean fewer reporters, who are furiously pulling double- or even triple-duty covering various beats. Many are listed as reporters and editors, but they may be freelance or part-time only. It’s a race for clicks and eyeballs, as publishers apply additional pressure to file multiple stories per day. Niche trade industry publications, such as those covering real estate, health care, or agriculture, may have several regional outlets and only one editorial hub to handle the reporting.
The economies of journalism do affect the editorial content, no matter how hard publishers try to deny it. In a business that is driven by clicks, views, shares, and subscribers, reporters are well aware of which companies and what type of news will yield the most engagement. In the U.S., business reporting is dominated by a shortlist, including FAANG, Uber, and Tesla, and stories with familiar narrative arcs, like the rise and fall of WeWork. Some may roll their eyes, but anytime you can align your pitch to one of these tried-and-true storylines, you increase your chances for success. In 2021, there is “an Uber” for nearly every type of service, and business reporters are trained to investigate leads for the next potential unicorn and visionary CEO.
Today’s business reporter is also more likely to view themself as an expert or thought leader on business topics. They may use social media to share their views and links to their work, but it also provides validation and reinforcement that they are influential. As a result, many have garnered a significant number of Twitter followers and are parlaying that influence into new opportunities. In essence, they are branding and marketing their expertise.
When you pitch a reporter now, you must do so with an eye toward their bigger platform. For example, is this a story that would be of interest to their Substack newsletter subscribers? Can you create a narrative that would play well for podcast reporting? Do they have a personal website and how are they using it? You may also consider how to leverage for bigger asks beyond the media pitch, such as moderating a panel that your client is participating in.
Without question, building a media list of business reporters and pitching them is much harder than it used to be. Nevertheless, here are some tips and considerations for pitching reporters in the U.S.:
- Researching a reporter’s past coverage and current interests is important. But you may be unaware that they’ve taken on additional responsibilities. Perhaps they’re only covering certain types of news. There’s only one way to find out: ask them.
- It varies by industry, but most top-tier national news and business outlets are still East Coast-based. Shoot for 7 – 8 am EST when distributing news releases on a wire service. Time your email pitching during the morning hours, even if you are on the West Coast.
- As always, the fundamentals of media relations are still important. Be respectful of reporters’ time. Prepare your media documents in advance to supply them with all the information they need. Line up your spokespeople, so they’re ready to interview as soon as possible.
- Graphic assets are more important than ever. Take a ‘more is more’ approach and provide reporters with a Dropbox link to as many photos, videos, and logos as possible. Online outlets are obviously not bound by column inches, and many repost their news and photos on social media platforms, giving you and your clients added reach.
- Call it the Theranos effect, but a great number of reporters dream about breaking news about a business scandal. Therefore, it’s important to prepare in advance for questions about profitability, sales, and other benchmarks that can call a company’s financial performance into question. These might include churn rate, and annual marketing spends on social media influencers, etc.