08/04/20 // Written by Cheryl Crossley

Why Media Requests Should be Part of your Digital PR Strategy

In the world of Digital PR, new tactics and ways of working are constantly appearing. In more recent years content marketing has been king, and nearly every agency now offers some iteration of this as part of their PR or content services.

However, while these tactics are undeniably tempting, it’s important that we don’t forget about the tried and tested methods of earning coverage and links too – the steadfast approaches we can rely on. Press office activity – more specifically sourcing and responding to media requests – is one such tactic.

Media requests are proving to be incredibly important during this current period of crisis. While the media landscape is so dominated by one topic, pitching unrelated stories can be a challenge. However, media requests reveal exactly what journalists are looking for on any given day enabling reactive responses.

What is a media request?

There are two versions of this, the first being most common for Digital PR practitioners in 2020:

  1. A digital enquiry that we receive from journalists via tools such as Response Source, HARO or #journorequest on Twitter. Journalists send these requests to indicate they need help such as expert comments, tips, data, imagery etc. from brands and businesses. This allows them to produce a planned piece of editorial content, aka, a news story. The request itself usually clarifies who they are, who they write for, what they’re looking for and what their deadline is.
  2. A proactively sourced content specification from a journalist, to inform an article they’ll be working on. More on this soon…

Many brands are put off media requests for a few simple reasons:

  • They don’t have the tools to find them – that’s where we come in
  • They tend to have quite speedy turnaround times
  • They usually require input from a spokesperson or named expert

Time is of the essence

It is not unusual for media to specify quick turnaround times of under 24 hours. However, the vast majority allow 2-5 days. Most requests come to us via HARO or Response Source, and once the journalist’s submission deadline has passed, we can no-longer reply or send further information (unless they have replied asking for this). As such, it is really important that we provide the best quality and most accurate request response we can the first time.

Some media will occasionally close off their requests early if they’ve received what they need, so time really is of the essence. The sooner we can provide a quality response, the better the chance of inclusion.

Spokespeople are key

In 90 percent of cases, media requests require a brand spokesperson who can act as the voice of the business or be a named expert from within the business. The only time you tend not to need a spokesperson is if the request is image or product led.

People trust in the expertise of people, whereas generic tips or comments from brands can feel impersonal or less trustworthy. Journalists want to be able to accredit a comment to a specific individual. They want to include their name, job title and the company they work for/the brand they represent.

Spokespeople should be senior or highly experienced members of the business who are knowledgeable about the products/services and their industry in general. Some brands have multiple spokespeople. For example, a law firm is likely to have a partner per ‘type’ of law such as a partner in family law, a partner in employment law and so on.

Ideally a spokesperson isn’t a head of marketing or marketing manager. Why? While likely to be highly knowledgeable about the business and its services, someone within marketing is there to raise the profile of the business. As such, their response to media requests is typically more promotional than is suitable for editorial placement.

There are no guarantees

Because most media requests are distributed via a tool, many other agencies and brands have access to these meaning they can be very competitive. Particularly those from national newspapers on broad, popular topics so inclusion can’t be guaranteed. The journalist will use the responses that best fit their story. They will focus on the quality of the supplied response, the relevancy of the brand and spokesperson and, of course, if the submission arrived within their deadline.

It is not unusual for a journalist to include multiple responses to their media request in a story. For example, if they have requested tips on how to do something, they may include five different tips from five different brands/sources.

As with all editorial content, we don’t have control over the final story and therefore do not get visibility of an article before it goes live. However, journalists will nearly always use any supplied comment verbatim and fact-check any data before publication.

Hot topics

There are certain topics that are more commonly referenced within media requests. These include but are not limited to:

  • Money management (general consumer tips on saving etc.)
  • Interior design tips
  • Travel and holiday tips
  • Wellbeing and fitness

These typically have longer lead-times as they are less linked to breaking news.

Roughly 70 percent of all media requests are more specifically linked to key topics in the news agenda on any given day. In these instances, journalists are typically looking for:

  • Reliable, supporting data
  • Explanation of what the topic means for the industry/consumers
  • Guidance on what those affected can do
  • Comments on the implications to your business
  • Case studies of people affected (positively or negatively)

If your business is B2B and your service is niche, then requests from media for comments, insight etc. via enquiry tools are likely to be less plentiful than those for more mainstream, B2C topics. However, with such a high percentage linked to breaking news stories, every business has an opportunity to contribute.

There is another way…

While reaction to live media requests is the most typical way to apply this tactic, there is a secondary method which requires a little more proactivity.

Media requests can also be sourced by simply emailing or calling relevant journalists and asking what they’re working on. Forward features lists are unusual but do still exist – particularly within industry and trade media. Asking for a copy of planned editorial and liaising with a journalist to determine what contributions they may require is another way of generating opportunities. Sure, this isn’t reinvention of the wheel – for more traditional agencies, this media relations-led application is commonplace. However, it does require investment of time which is why more and more agencies are opting for ‘quicker win’ tactics.

The results speak for themselves

One of the main reasons why press office activation and media requests shouldn’t be ignored is because of the quality of coverage and links this can yield.

Pitching to higher tier / higher DA publications can be tricky and often requires heavy investment of time and budget to create a worthy story. Contributing to a planned story, however, is a whole different playing field. You know what they want, and you have it. You’re able to make their story come together.

Sure, standalone stories and coverage/link volume are often the ideal. But being sat alongside multiple experts in an informative piece of high-quality editorial is still valuable and desirable. Journalists also remember brands that help them and provide good quality contributions within set deadlines. Over time, journalists come direct, offering a head start.

Overall, media requests offer editorial opportunity and value-for-money. While depending on these to drive results alone is typically inadvisable, not leveraging these is also a mistake for most clients. Sometimes, the old ways are the new way forward.

For more information about how to kick-start Digital PR media requests for your business, get in touch.