Thursday, March 22, 2012

Things that go "Bump"

It sounds like a horror novel, and for some small businesses, it can be a real fright.  But breaking news doesn't have to be the mask-wearing, knife-wielding slasher that ends your news coverage dreams.  The fact is, understanding how breaking news works and how it impacts small business news coverage can actually help you in the long run, but you have to remain patient, confident and respectful. 

 Manning a Bronco? I should pitch my fundraiser story now!

Be Aware:

Let's say you're a small business who has taken the right steps to pitch a story to a newsroom.  You make the contact, put together a simple release, make the follow up phone calls and finally get a reporter to commit to covering your story.  Because you're pitching an event that takes place over the weekend, the story is slated to air on a Thursday.  Thursday rolls around and you're ready, excited even, for your interview and story to be broadcast out to the masses.

Suddenly, hours before your story is to air, there is breaking news.  Producers begin slashing and burning their rundowns, replacing old stories with new stories related to the breaking news.  Your story ends up being cut and now, just a day before your event, it's unlikely your story will ever hit the airwaves.

This is how breaking news works, and, unfortunately, it's the small businesses and non-profits that are hit the hardest when news breaks, regardless whether it's local or national.    When this happens, the best you can do is thank the reporter for their efforts, and give them space and time.  For one, reporters and producers will be focused on covering the breaking news, NOT on your story.  The worst thing you can do is get angry, plead for your story to air or pester them to find out when your story will air in the future.  Your story is huge to you, but to them, it's just another story that had to be cut to make way for bigger, better things.

I have clients who's stories have been bumped for a number of reasons.  In Denver the most common reason for being bumped is weather.  My clients have been bumped due to blizzards, potential blizzards, tornadoes, Spring thunderstorms and extremely high winds.  They been bumped because of school shootings, political news and even sports developments.

Which leads me to this:

Unless you've been living in a cave for the past two weeks, you know that there have been some fairly remarkable sports stories developing from New York to the San Francisco Bay.  It started off simply enough with Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning being released from his longtime team, the Colts.  This was followed up by his cross-country tour of teams as he tried to decide where he'd play next.

Then on Monday, Manning made his choice.  He chose the Broncos, setting in motion a whirlwind of activity both in the NFL and in the media.  Speculation, rumors, reports began circulating as reporters attempted to break down his decision, it's impact on other teams, and, not to be forgotten, what would happen to the league's previous biggest story, Tim Tebow.  In the middle of all of this Alex Smith, QB of the 49ers was meeting with the Dolphins, another ripple effect of the Manning decision.

On Tuesday, Manning and the Broncos held a press conference to introduce the newest starting Broncos QB to the world.  Meanwhile, Smith resigned with San Fran, more Manning ripples.  But things only got stranger after that.  On Wednesday, the league handed down severe penalties to the New Orlean Saints as part of a bounty policy run by the defense during its Superbowl run.  At the same time, Tebow was traded to the NY Jets, then he wasn't, then he was again.

All the while, news rooms across the nation were scrambling to keep up with the quickly developing stories.  In Denver, reporters and producers were overwhelmed with the sheer amount of information coming at them.

Entire rundowns were written, scrapped, re-written and scrapped again as the news changed seemingly by the minute.  The losers in all of this, sadly, were the small businesses and local stories that got bumped because of the time devoted to the Manning, Tebow, Bronco developments.  This isn't to say that the breaking news wasn't important, it was, but that's an issue for another post.  It's just that many of the stories that ended up being bumped would never have a chance to be aired again. 

It was during this rush of breaking news that I received a tweet from an old friend who works in a local newsroom.  In essence he was lamenting the fact that even while all hell was breaking loose, he was being pitched other news stories.  Folks, if I've said it once, I've said it a million times, one of the biggest reasons why story pitches fail is due to lack of awareness.

If you're going to be pitching a story, you really ought to know what is going on in the world around you.  Trust me, when newsrooms are dealing with breaking news, the last thing they have time to do is listen to a story pitch that has absolutely nothing to do with the story that is breaking.

Even if you simply send an email pitch, the likelihood that a producer or reporter will have time to open it up, read it and decide on its newsworthiness is very, VERY low.  Your email will more often than not end up unread and you will have wasted your time pitching a story during breaking news.  Oh, and don't even THINK about making a phone pitch. 

As a small business owner, losing out on a story due to breaking news is frustrating, even heartbreaking.  But you can use the situation to help you over the long haul.  These are great times to help build your relationship with a particular reporter or producer.  Think about it.  Journalists are people too.  They have feelings and they DO understand the frustration that goes with being bumped.  They also understand that you did pitch a quality news story, and they'll listen to you again in the future.  You may have lost out on a particular story because of breaking news, but you'll get a longer look the next time you pitch.

Here are some basic tips to help you deal with breaking news as a small business owner or non-profit:
1.  Be patient - Understand that when breaking news happens, producers and reporters are VERY busy.  You may be wondering if your story is threatened and you may feel the urge to call the newsroom to find out if your story will air or be printed.  Fight that urge.  The worst thing you can do during breakig news is call a newsroom about a story that may or may not be on the cutting block.  IF they have time, and IF they think about it, they'll let you know if your story is being bumped.  Most likely you won't know until you watch, listen or read the news.  At some point you'll be able to chat with the journalist, just not during breaking news.

2.  Be respectful - This could also be titled, "Don't get angry".  If your story IS bumped, let the reporter or producer know that you understand and that you're hopefull the story can be covered at a later date.  Whatever you do, don't get upset, don't complain, don't plead, beg or bribe.  A simple thank you, and let's touch base in a few days, will go a long way to building a relationship with a particular journalist.  If you show you understand and respect the deadlines the journalist is under, they will remember you the next time you pitch a story.

3.  Never ever, ever, EVER try to pitch during breaking news - Consider this...you're at work, you have a huge project to deliver and the dealine is coming up fast.  All of your focus is on that project and on meeting that deadline.  Then, suddenly, someone comes in and wants to tell you all about their Disney vacation with the family.  You don't have time to listen to that.  It could be the funniest story in the world, but really all it does is distract and annoy you.  That's what it's like for a journalist working on breaking news that gets a story pitch.  All you'll do is annoy them.  They may not listen to your pitch, but they'll probably remember your name as the person who didn't respect their deadlines enough to pitch a story during breaking news.  That won't help your effort later on when you try to pitch the same story or even a different story.  
There is ONE exception to that last rule.  If, say, the breaking news is about a toxic chemical spill and you just happen to be the owner of a company that works with toxic chemicals, you can make a pitch to the newsroom that might actually give insight into the breaking story.  In other words, the only time you can pitch a story during breaking news is if you have something to add to the coverage. 

If, however, newsrooms are scrambling to cover a plane crash or multi-car pileup on the freeway, and you call to pitch a Saturday night fundraiser, don't be surprised if you quickly get a dial tone. 

Once again, dealing with newsrooms and journalists is all about common sense and courtesy.  Respect what they do and understand the pressures they are under and you'll gain respect, which goes a long way when pitching future stories.