Call it newsjacking, reactive coverage, fast-response pitching, whatever you want, but responding to news items quickly to insert clients into a conversation is an essential part of any well-rounded PR program. This can have several positive effects:

  1. Get more coverage
  2. Raise the profile of your client in general, or a specific spokesperson, as a thought leader
  3. Get coverage in business press or prestigious broadcast outlets that you may not be able to secure otherwise

So how do you do this correctly? Here are five steps to help you set up a killer reactive pitching program.

Find good spokespeople

Work with the available SMEs. Find out what why are experts and what they are passionate about. The person’s title doesn’t matter as much as his or her knowledge, passion, comfort level with media and ability to respond quickly. This could be a CEO, CTO, VP, or product manager. Ideally, this is someone who is already a regular spokesperson for normal media announcements and is comfortable talking to reporters. Gauge his or her comfort level with written, phone, radio and on-camera interviews so you know which outlets to target. Meet ahead of time and explain the reactive pitching process and what you are trying to achieve with it. Emphasize that acting quickly is crucial!

Decide the target audience

Create a list of topics that the SME can comment on. Make sure you know if the SME can “talk down” to the average person or if he or she is better at speaking to fellow experts. This will affect the publications and outlets that you pitch. For example, one of my clients (a cybersecurity company) has a CTO that is very good at explaining security concepts to the average person and is comfortable being on-camera. We’ve secured many on-camera interviews with local news stations helping to explain big national security stories like election hacking and ransomware attacks. For another security client that is more technical, we stick to pitching written comments to security publications.

Find the right reporters

As with all things in PR, find the correct reporters. Major outlets have breaking news reporters that don’t necessarily specialize in any topic. Producers at TV and radio stations can be good targets as long as they cover the appropriate kind of story – do research and be sure you’re targeting the correct people, or pitch ones you know. Always use the “news desk” email addresses at TV and radio stations. This is what they are for!

Make a system

It’s easy to say, “I’ll check the news every morning for relevant stories,” but you won’t actually do it regularly if you don’t make it a habit. Block out 15 minutes in your calendar each morning and be diligent about reading the news and looking for major stories that fit what an SME can comment on.

Get comments first, then pitch

This is vital. Your chance of success will go up dramatically if you provide reporters with a quote up front. It eliminates back-and-forth and reporters in these situations are often working on very tight deadlines. When you see a likely story, send it to the SME and ask him or her to send you a few sentence-long comments. Send this to the target list of reporters you have developed and offer further quotes or an interview if they are interested.

Reactive pitching is tough – it takes a lot of work and the ability to move quickly. But it can pay major dividends when done well. For example, one of our clients was included in a major daily newspaper story discussing Vice President Pence’s personal email account; the story was reprinted and syndicated over 100 times. Another client, a coding training program, offered a scholarship for students of another for-profit school when it abruptly shut down. We pitched the story idea the same day the news broke and were included in stories found in almost a dozen local and education pubs. Good luck and happy pitching!