Method Communications 20 Feb 2020 // 9:04PM GMT
Beth Haiken, EVP, Method Communications
If you’ve been doing PR for a while, it’s sometimes hard to tell if things are changing or not. Newsrooms have been shrinking since 2008, so was 2019 really worse than 2018? Americans’ trust in media has improved slightly since hitting record lows in 2016, but it hasn’t topped 50% since 2006, so does media still matter? And what, if anything, do these and other developments mean for the way we work? At Method, our team members talk, tweet, and email every day with reporters across a wide range of publications. Here’s what they had to say.
Is there a “new media landscape”?
Yes and No.
On the “yes” side, the Method team sees new, well-funded media outlets that are doing things differently, by blending events and coverage (The Information, Fortune), or new formats like podcasts and newsletters (Axios). The Information is still considered one of the ultimate insider publications for technology, but The Markup seems to be poised to make a splash, and Protocol is intriguing because of the quality of the senior staff they’ve snapped up.
Many of these new publications are at the forefront of testing out paywalls and subscriptions, so we’re watching to see — will they gate all the content? Just certain topics? It’s hard at this point to know how many eyes will see articles, even for top-tier publications, let alone the quality of those eyes. Perhaps not surprisingly, as publications increasingly look for the audience to pay for the content, the audience increasingly determines what stories an outlet will take, and how it will cover them.
While tech media have made their bones writing about the tech industry, there’s more skepticism than we saw a few years ago. As one of our team members put it, “If you’re in a sector in the crosshairs (hello gig economy) lay low; the pile-on is real.” Another noted, “If a reporter from a top-tier publication reaches out proactively, it’s probably bad.”
On the “no” side, some Method team members see less that’s truly new, and more an acceleration of trends that have been underway for a while.
The drastic cuts in newsroom staffing over the past several years mean there’s less specialization among reporters. A few years ago “there were dedicated reporters for the different enterprise technologies (i.e., server reporter, storage reporter, etc.) This resulted in really deep expertise. Now, increasingly, reporters are assigned the entire enterprise beat, which can lead to diluted expertise.” It also means editors are less willing to let reporters travel to cover events - even if travel costs are comped, the cost in time is too much.
We’ve noticed reporters being spread more thinly across the board - doing several jobs plus maintaining a twitter presence, for example. We’ve also noticed them moving jobs more frequently, making it more important than ever to track them on twitter, so we know where they are and what they’re focused on before pitching. And increasingly, it seems like well-respected, senior journalists are the bellwethers for the industry - we watch where they’re moving because those are likely to be the up-and-coming publications our clients will most want to be in.
The blurring of the lines between earned and paid content means that we’re more often passed along to sponsored content/partnerships contacts, especially for product pitches. At some publications, a paid component is increasingly required for any coverage, especially for consumer products.
Editors matter more than ever. One reporter responded recently, “Thanks for reading, and for passing along! I’d love to take a look under embargo, though I can’t promise that we’ll cover—editors always have the last say!” Another said, “Let me check back with my editors one more time. I really want to write this story. Let me see if I can move some things around.” In the first case, we got coverage, but in the second, we didn’t.
Asked if and how these changes have affected the way they work, here are seven quick takeaways from Method team members.
Press releases are still viable--especially for trades, which often write from them without requesting interviews--but they have to be well-written. If the reporter can’t find the news because it’s buried in jargon or marketing-speak, then it’s not effective. A team member noted that they can be particularly helpful for complicated topics like deep tech and enterprises SaaS.
“Reporters who have just picked up this beat need the context from the release to help them make sense of 'why' this matters to them.” Some outlets increasingly rely on written materials, versus taking time for conversations with executives. And releases can help you get clarity on the story.
As another team member noted, “One of the best things about press releases is that it helps you get all of the information down in a narrative that makes sense -- gives you a chance to cut out the things that are boring or won’t help a reporter’s story before going to them with a pitch/interview.
Getting the scoop is still a thing, so exclusives still matter, especially for top tier outlets or trades hoping to get to or stay at the top of a vertical. And generally, our experience has been that if a reporter takes the exclusive, they’ll write (or will let you know if they decide not to) - provided the content is newsworthy.
You have more intelligence to customize your pitch than ever. Scour Twitter feeds, check YouTube and of course plunge into their clips and history for any overlaps. Show reporters that you did your homework--even when there’s more homework to be done--and your odds of building a relationship surge.
Pitching freelancers is more important than ever - almost all top- and mid-tier publications now rely on them.
Surveys still work but they have to be good. Outlets are getting stricter on vendor-sponsored surveys and in general, they’re getting harder given the sheer number of surveys companies seem to be putting out these days.
Get-to-know-you meetups and intros still work, but they’re more likely to work for reporters who aren’t covering the daily horse race but trying to cover the trends instead.
Pitch slow - custom and thoughtful vs. blast. Pay attention to your subject line - if you wouldn’t open it, slow down and try again. Send the email to yourself first to check formatting. Don’t send attachments, and try following up during off-peak times. And use timed sends to defeat time zone inbox burials.
This is part one of a multi-part series on the future of business & tech media, in partnership with Method Communications. To read more from the series, click here.