News & Blog

Capitalizing When Everything Seems to be “Breaking News”

If you tune into CNN, Fox News or MSNBC, the odds are good that you will be greeted with one of the following phrases as part of the on-screen graphics:




The big three cable networks like to package their news as “breaking,” “developing” or “happening” to attract and retain viewers who might otherwise move on to more entertaining content if it appears that nothing big is occurring.

Part of this increase in what qualifies as “breaking” is due to the nature of 24-hour news coverage and always being on air when new events happen. But, another part is a desire to keep up with social media, especially Twitter. Of course, our collective short attention spans play a role too.

Navigating a media climate that puts an emphasis on covering the newest and freshest stories as much as possible not only creates challenges for public relations practitioners, but it also presents opportunities.

Pitching a story that has nothing to do with a breaking news situation, as it’s unfolding, is one of the Unwritten Rules of Media Relations we covered in an earlier blog entry. Please, don’t do that, unless you enjoy the unmistakable sound of being hung up on.

Conversely, if your pitch DOES have a connection to the story that’s breaking, you have the chance to earn major coverage. But only if you do it right.

If your organization has an expert or experts who can add to a breaking news story, make sure you’re prepared by following these tips.

  • 1) Have information about your expert(s) ready to go. Much of what occurs during breaking news happens very quickly. As a result, it’s important to have media-friendly information (such as easy-to-read bullet points of qualifications/experience, links to past media coverage, etc.) about your experts and head shots available to send as part of a pitch.
  • 2) Determine your target media outlets. It’s tempting to focus exclusively on targeting the first outlet to break a story, but that outlet may not be the best fit for your pitch for many reasons. Wire services like the Associated Press and Reuters often break news, but their stories tend to offer key details, without always adding additional context through third-party interviews. Seek out outlets that tend to add color commentary to breaking news.
  • 3) Produce a formal media advisory. This is a step that has paid dividends for our agency’s PR team in recent weeks. When a story is breaking, it’s tempting to immediately get on the phone and start calling television and radio assignment desks, since both can most quickly deliver your expert’s/organization’s take on the news. We recommend taking the time to develop a formal advisory that has a compelling headline, explains how your organization can comment and links to the information mentioned in our first tip. This will allow you to send targeted emails and then make phone calls, allowing for greater reach and better efficiency.
  • 4) Build in time for a pre-interview briefing. If you’re successful with an expert pitch, a media outlet may ask for your expert to be available ASAP. If possible, build in at least a few minutes between ending that conversation and having your expert interviewed. Just as you would for any other media opportunity, take the time to discuss details about the outlet, the interviewer and likely questions.
  • 5) Don’t ignore your organization’s owned content sources. Rapid response to breaking news should go beyond media relations to maximize reach and to not be completely reliant on traditional media gatekeepers. Partner with your social media marketing team to produce a visual message that is compelling and shareable. This artwork can be as simple as a quote against a background of your organization’s colors or as complex as an infographic.
  • 6) Be ready to evaluate success. Just like all other forms of public relations and marketing, you should implement rapid response communications with measurement in mind. Google Analytics is helpful in measuring a variety of factors, including visits to media expert pages, keywords used to find your organization’s website and overall increases in site traffic during a busy time for media coverage.

Breaking news will continue to be a dominant force in the way the media operates. By following these six tips, your organization will be well-equipped to harness it for your benefit.

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