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Setting Media Coverage Expectations

Author: Tricia Heinrich
September 20, 2018

“When a dog bites a man, that is not news, because it happens so often. But if a man bites a dog, that is news.”

This old journalism aphorism is still highly relevant today. Recognizing the distinctions between what clients consider news and what journalists think is newsworthy is complicated. It rests at the heart of challenges for public relations professionals when it comes to setting media coverage expectations with clients.

A recent personal experience is relevant. In a pre-release pitch to a friendly, trusted and highly visible media outlet, the feedback on a story our client wanted to see “widely covered” was: “Great effort but no, not news… if (xxx) develops something bad ass that is ready to deploy? Try us again.” A bit harsh but certainly not uncommon.

The client could not understand the lack of interest. Three words that PR pros try to avoid at all costs were then uttered by our client: “But you promised…”

Ugh.

The reality is that we set the expectation for a measured – and likely minimal – amount of interest from the business and trade media. This estimate was delivered to the clients with the full knowledge that we would be contacting an extensive list of the best possible targets.

Furthermore, we explained that this outreach was a great opportunity to connect with key journalists and editors to introduce/reintroduce the company as “one to watch.” We also presented a roadmap for generating sustainable buzz with expanded media visibility that would dovetail with the company’s business imperatives and timeframes.

Last but not least, we let the client know that each aspect of a long-term, strategic PR plan had to be clearly understood. We highlighted the realities of today’s corporate communications environment, where every communication needs to be customized for highly targeted audiences.

Corporate communication tactics and strategies have different purposes, audiences, stakeholders (internal as well as external) and shelf lives. It goes without saying that there is a difference between a press release that announces that company XYZ is exhibiting at an industry event and one announcing a new or greatly enhanced product or service.

This and other factors must all be blended in the right proportions. Included are such things as company history, market standing and the status and nature of relationships with journalists, industry influencers and customers. Everything must be baked just right to produce compelling and sustainable outcomes that are the keys to a long-term brand stewardship plan.

The most important aspect of getting PR and client agreement on what will constitute success– in a framework that properly appreciates content quantity and quality in the context of targeted audiences’ needs –is timing. It is critical to get an agreed-upon plan in place upfront that has the flexibility for fine-tuning in a world roiling with change and the need to adapt.

In fact, the reason we reach out to select friends in the media to test newsworthiness is all about risk management. We don’t want to be surprised, and we certainly don’t want our clients to be surprised.

The solution? Under promise and over deliver. Always.