How business schools can pitch stories to journalists during COVID-19
It’s fair to say that the news agenda has been completely up-ended by COVID-19. Six weeks into the UK lockdown, the pandemic continues to dominate the press.
What does all of this mean for business schools who want to communicate with the news media?
Here are three key questions that you may be asking.
1. What’s the best way to approach journalists at the moment?
Like everyone else, journalists are having to cope with the challenges of homeworking.
Production deadlines have also moved – news journalists are under pressure to pitch their stories to editors much earlier in the day ahead of their morning news conferences.
Email remains the most appropriate way to communicate. Pitch your idea first thing but be patient. Get straight to the point – what’s the story and can you back it up?
If you have a major piece of research to release, it’s often best to consider giving it to a journalist under several days’ embargo – especially if you want it to appear on or just after the weekend.
Many journalists are using Twitter at the moment to source interviews and articles – but this is highly competitive, so think about how yours can stand out, for instance with images or an arresting headline.
And don’t forget broadcast media. Obviously, reporters are under more restrictions as to what they can film and how. But they are still looking for content, particularly faculty experts to explain things to a general audience.
2. How will they judge if my story is newsworthy?
As in non-COVID times, there are several key elements which factor into the newsworthiness of a story. But it’s important to understand that the bar for this is much higher now.
If you are pitching a news story to a national newspaper and your story is only of interest to a small audience, it would be better to consider a local or trade publication. National journalists often scan the local press for stories that can be elevated, particularly if they contain a strong human-interest element.
It sounds obvious, but something newsworthy should be new. At the start of the lockdown, we saw a lot of stories about business schools moving their courses online. But they’ve been written about so much now that this is no longer exciting for editors.
In the same vein, many business schools have got on board with pitching opinion and thought pieces to publications from faculty, particularly about leading through the crisis. Be aware, however, that journalists are being bombarded with very similar pieces – yours needs to be very different to stand out.
There is, however, an appetite for feel-good stories that illustrate what action you are taking to help and assist people. We’ve seen stories about business schools offering help to ventures solving COVID-related problems, schools introducing courses relevant to current times (such as cyber-security) and others making admissions processes easier or offering financial aid.
Try also to think about the big themes likely to come next in the news cycle – for instance, how are schools taking steps to mitigate a potential dip in international students?
3. Will they take non-COVID-19 related stories?
Media outlets are very aware, similar to the Brexit situation, that people may start to get COVID-19 fatigue. But this has not happened just yet. One major national UK broadsheet is currently devoting less than 10 per cent of its home news pages to non COVID-19 related stories.
But that doesn’t mean that they won’t look at non COVID-19 related content. If you have something that is in keeping with the general tone and where we are in the news agenda, perhaps a feel-good story or something that’s slightly odd or unusual, by all means pitch it.
This is not a time to stop communicating. While you don’t want to be seen as taking advantage of the situation, your audiences, including the media, still want to hear from you. Business schools have an important role to play, particularly as there are major economic and business repercussions from this crisis.
By Toby Roe, Co-founder, Roe Communications