We don’t always anticipate natural disasters, tragedies or a global pandemic, but knowing how to pitch journalists when the news cycle is focused elsewhere should be done tactfully, delicately and respectfully. There are times that it seemed like the world ought rightly to just stop — I stayed off social media altogether and went mostly dark online for a beat.
During that time, I watched as publicists attempted to carry on with their work. While I’m sure that some just canceled their plans to pitch and went quiet out of respect and grief, others proceeded with various approaches to lifestyle pitching — sometimes awkwardly.
Pitch emails typically broke into one of a few categories. Some would lead with an acknowledgment of the news event and then move into the pitch. Others would ask if I was accepting pitches at this terrible time, putting the onus back on the journalist to reply. Some would not acknowledge current events at all and carry on with pitching a firming cream or packing cube set.
As I processed my own emotional responses to these pitches, I also asked other journalists in my sphere to share their feedback on what was working and what wasn’t for a post in my newsletter about how to pitch journalists in times of tragedy.
“PR isn’t really where to direct annoyance or outrage,” one friend said. “You take care of your side of the street. If you don’t want to do your job as a beauty blogger for a day, take a day off. But you can’t decide how PR does theirs.”
This writer (whose deep empathy I can personally vouch for) views times like these as personal matters and does not expect publicists to tailor unrelated pitches to meet the moment.
Another noted that “we have been in a constant state of tragedy for three years now,” between the pandemic, civil unrest and other daily news making horrors. “It’s terrible, and we can’t help but feel like writing about the next air fryer or body wash is frivolous. Ultimately, we still must do our jobs, even if we feel torn on it,” she reasoned.
To that end, she said, “I am fine with receiving pitches, but maybe it would be best to be to start with a sentence disclaimer, such as, ‘We understand if following yesterday’s tragic events, you are not covering lifestyles topics right now, but wanted you to have this in case it’s a fit for your coverage.’”
In the aftermath of a tragedy, I received a number of pitches with that style of lead-in — and it felt appropriate to me, too.
Another group of lifestyle writer colleagues viewed the days after a tragedy much more simply: “I want to not get PR emails during times like these. Like, read the room and stay quiet in my opinion,” one told me. Several other journalists in my circle co-signed this restrained approach.
For me, a one-day breather (at least) works. It almost feels like a moment of silence. And a brief waiting period of one day is not likely to offend anyone, whereas a too-prompt response might.
The truth is there’s no one-size-fits-all approach guaranteed to work uniformly. Everyone grieves differently. And everyone has different opinions about how to move forward. But I hope this range of opinions helps inform your thinking at times of crisis.
And not just tragedies: All sorts of big news stories pop up regularly that grab news outlets’ singular attention — and that current event might not line up with your own pitching goals.
You can count on these regular disruptions. That’s why now is a good time to get prepared for the inevitable mega-stories that lie ahead.
This post is part of Durée & Company’s ongoing Guest Blog series, The #DynamoDigest, where we have tapped select journalists and Influencers whose work we admire and respect. In this series, top tips and best practices are shared across a variety of topics impacting the public relations industry today.
By: Alesandra (Alice) Dubin of Alice Dubin Media, an award-winning travel and lifestyle journalist.
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