When News is “full”, What’s PR to Do?

by PR Coach

bin Laden death dominated news coverage

The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) does a weekly “News Coverage Index.” If you’re looking for insight into US news, PEJ is a great resource with none better than its May 2-8, 2011 report.

This report analyzed news coverage during the week of Osama bin Laden’s death.  It showed how news of his demise totally dominated the news. This has some interesting implications for PR people but let’s look at highlights from the report first.

This was the biggest story since PEJ started tracking the news in 2007. Among its findings:

  • The bin Laden story dominated 90% of cable, 73% network, 67% radio, 64% online and 51% of newspaper coverage. It’s a good thing the Royal Wedding was already ancient history from a news perspective.

    Coverage of bin Laden's death dominated all news


  • “Coverage of the May 1 raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and its aftermath, accounted for 69% of the [total] newshole during the week of May 2-8.”
  • “About a third of it focused on the events of the raid. Another quarter focused on the global reaction to the death…” Even at its lowest level, the subject still dominated all other news events.
  • “The impact and intensity of this story prompted PEJ to release a May 9 special report on the early coverage of the death of bin Laden, using computer technology that examined more than 120,000 news stories from May 1-4.”
  • The No. 2 story, the US economy, registered a mere 5% of the newshole, 64% less than the bin Laden story.
  • Other stories were barely on the map: flooding in the South/Midwest was the No. 3 story (3% of the newshole) followed by the US presidential election (3%) and education in the US (2%).
  • Top themes in news coverage? Narrative of the death (36%); political fallout (15%); US-Pakistan relations/Pakistan’s role (10%); impact on terrorism (7%); and death photos of bin Laden 7%.

    News "themes" provided much news insight

PEJ Methodology

It’s useful to note how PEJ’s does its research. The weekly News Coverage Index studies news from 52 outlets in print, online, network TV, cable and radio (List of Outlets). The weekly study includes as many as 1,000 stories. Percentages are based on available “newshole” or space for each subject in print and online as well as time on radio and TV (Our Methodology). Reports also include a look at the week’s leading newsmakers or people who account for at least 50% of a given story.

Implications for PR

The weekly reports make fascinating reading and often have interesting implications for PR pros. This week was no different.

What if you had planned a major event, product launch or news announcement during the week of May 2-8? Frankly, you’d have been out of luck. Rescheduling your announcement or even would be the smartest strategy. But this is always a risk in PR.

As with the Royal wedding, some lazy, shallow or inexperienced marketers and sadly, some PR people, try to tie their product and company news to such big stories of the day. Of course that’s simply going to make you look silly and dampen your chances of getting legitimate news coverage in the future.

Just imagine? How about a firearm manufacturer promoting the gun that brought the US justice? Camo clothing makers for people who want to dress like official Navy Seals? Now I’m only kidding, but stranger things have happened. You can always read more of these sad but true Bad PR…Bad stories on our website.

There are the usual lessons for what news media are looking for and what makes them hustle to compete for stories or outdo each other with new angles. When it comes to news values, great “stories” are essential. Visuals are a critical component. Timeliness and currency are factors. But PR pros know that already, right?

Another implication of the report is that online media were equally dominated by the bin Laden story. No room there for other stories last week either.

Social media were also abuzz, just like during the democratic uprisings in Egypt and Libya. In fact, you probably heard about bin Laden’s death first on Twitter or an online news source. The wall-to-wall coverage was evident in every social media channel. Thankfully, Kenneth Cole did not tweet to use the situation to sell products like last time.

There was lots of debate among PR pros. Some believe you can’t compete with such big stories of the day and shouldn’t bother to pitch stories. Others, like my colleague Bob Geller, felt that you need to do your job regardless of the competition.

Given the PEJ analysis, I don’t think you can ever compete with such a big story. If you try, do you think your media pitch or news release will even be opened? You’re unlikely to get any coverage or will be buried in the equivalent of the “back page” or late night TV or radio wasteland.

No, the smartest thing is to reschedule and work hard to create your own real news later.

What do you think? Did you have any success getting “major” news coverage last week? Not as much as you may have this week I suspect. Your comments are welcome below.

Like what you read today? Please let us know what other PR tips, tactics and insights you’d like to see in future posts. We’ll be glad to deliver and don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter or get our RSS feed directly to your favorite reader.

Visual: CNN News

Author:  Jeff Domansky is Editor, The PR Coach

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