Carolyn McMaster | September 4, 2020
Organizations seeking to get their stories seen and heard are always up against market noise—the constant racket of industry news, general news, competitor messages and so on. It’s one of the three barriers we consider in developing a PR strategy.
But the market noise of yore (that would be 2019) was just a gentle hum compared with today’s deafening roar, which is amplified by the pandemic, the movement for racial justice and the election. Breaking through can seem impossible, unless you’re a big brand with a big news story.
Even so, there are ways to make yourself heard, particularly with thought leadership initiatives. Here are some tactics that, backed by perseverance and grit, have delivered for our clients.
Listen first—then speak up
The pandemic, the election and racial justice dominate the media, and it’s best to understand those topics and work with them rather than fight the tide. Social enterprises and mission-led businesses are typically well positioned to contribute to these conversations: a CNote pitch on how CDFIs are scrambling to help small businesses led to a reported story in NextCity, for example. Early in the pandemic, we knew an RSF Social Finance expert could provide insight into how impact investments might fare; Forbes did an interview.
Framing stories in the context of major news cycles can spark media interest but there’s a fine line to walk: without a legitimate connection you’ll be perceived as taking advantage of a tragic situation (in the case of COVID-19) or making a cheap bid for attention.
Check your strategy
In the face of circumstances that overwhelm your story, it may be tempting to change your core messages. Resist that! It will only muddy your brand. Your communications strategy, however, is likely to need adaptation. (Here is a deeper look at that.) When it was clear COVID-19 was going to be around for a while, we looked for ways to continue to promote key themes. These included putting off a planned campaign and substituting something more immediately relevant; focusing on thought leadership topics that spoke to the new normal and what might come next; and doubling down on outreach to trade outlets, which have more room for bread-and-butter topics. That has allowed us to keep clients in conversations.
We’re forever encouraging clients to take a stand—to challenge the status quo, support a bold new policy, offer an alternative way. While new ideas are seemingly more plentiful than ever, it’s also true that people are hungry for them. Nia Impact Capital’s Kristin Hull doesn’t hesitate to go big with shareholder activism work and is getting good traction in mainstream and financial media around investing for gender and racial equity.
Show up in new places
We widened and adapted outreach strategies to go beyond clients’ usual outlets. We successfully pitched The Hill on a LavaMaex story about the nonprofit’s work with Red Feather to bring handwashing to the Navajo and Hopi nations. We also found a slightly offbeat home (Sustainable Brands) for a case study of its work in Germany.
Finally, we strive to be extra patient and persistent—there is almost always a way to break through the noise, even during a perfect storm like the one we’re in.