EMS public relations: Timing is everything

A reporter’s deadline is more important than your own convenience


When you were a teenager, how did you ask your parents to agree to something they just as easily could have refused? You waited to ask for the right time, and asked in a manner that was more likely to get you the answer you desired. 

It’s the same when asking a reporter to write a positive story about your company.

The first step is to understand a reporter’s deadlines, and respect them.  Once you understand their needs, you can time your strategy to increase your odds of success. 

Deadlines and what they mean
Every media outlet is unique, but generally, here’s some sample timelines and daily deadlines for different types of media.

  • Television timelines: If a TV station has their newscast at 5pm, that means a reporter has to record, edit and hand in their story before the newscast begins.  If your media event is at 3 p.m., it means that it is likely to end closer to 3:30. The reporter will need to drive back to the station, edit the piece and turn it in. 

    You’re cutting the timeline pretty close.  Instead, if you have the media event in the morning or at least before 2 p.m., you would have a better chance of getting coverage.

    Another consideration for TV is when the daily “morning meeting” occurs.  This is when the news department leader and the assignment team dole out the day’s assignments to reporters and photographers.  Many stations hold this meeting at 8:30 in the morning—after the morning newscasts are done but right before the next shift of reporters comes on for the day. 

    During this meeting, they schedule out all the “pre-pitched” stories for the day.  So, if you send them a media advisory after that meeting has started, you will have little chance of getting a camera sent to your event that day. All the cameras have already been assigned to other events. 
  • Radio timelines: Most stations run news during the early morning and late afternoon hours, when people drive to and from work.  There are also often short news updates at the start of the hour, as well as 30 minutes of the hour. If you call the station during these hours, you’re unlikely to talk to someone in the News Department.  Instead, midday is a better time to call to offer your story.
  • Community and weekly newspaper timelines: You should ask each paper for their editorial deadlines, but generally if a paper comes out on a Friday, their deadline for the print edition is often Tuesday or Wednesday.  If you pitch a story on Monday or early on Tuesday, you have a better shot to make that week’s edition.  If you pitch them on Wednesday afternoon, the earliest would be 10 days away — which for many stories would make them no longer newsworthy or timely. 
  • Daily newspaper timelines: By 3 p.m. or 4 p.m., reporters are often hard at work writing their stories to submit to their editors, who then return the stories to reporters asking for additional edits or information.  If the reporter then asks you a follow-up question or a new query, help the reporter in a way that improves the chances the story will be covered in the way you want.

Help the reporter cover your story
The rule also applies to when you’re reacting to a reporter’s inquiry. Often, a reporter may ask a detailed or unexpected question in which you need to research the answer, or run your proposed answer through management. That can take time. Reporters understand that you don’t have every answer off the top of your head. But that doesn’t change their deadlines.

Whenever a reporter calls, before hanging up ask them when is the latest time you can call them back.  They’ll respect you for asking.  Sometimes you’ll be surprised to learn that they don’t even need the answer that day — giving you extra time to prepare your response. The key is that you must respond before that time.  Otherwise, you’ll look bad and untrustworthy in their eyes. 

Avoid making more work for the reporter
Here’s another tip that’s important.  If the deadline is approaching but you won’t have an answer in time, call the reporter, apologize and admit you won’t have an answer by their deadline. The earlier you alert the reporter that you won’t make the deadline, the more he/she will respect you. It provides an opportunity for the reporter to locate an expert somewhere else, or write the story in a way where the missing fact can be avoided. 

If you wait until the last minute, you’re putting the reporter in a bad spot. They may have to go back and edit a story they already wrote, or look for another source on short notice.

A reporter’s deadline is more important than your convenience.  Respecting those deadlines is a sign of respect to the reporter, and ultimately you’ll receive better, more positive coverage.

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