The following post is one in a series of guest posts I am featuring this year. It’s written by Emily Dammeyer, Public Relations Manager of Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C.  Emily and the whole PR team at Children’s National get some of the best national and local media coverage around, thanks to their perseverance and saavy (I can brag about them!).  Enjoy.-Amy

With today’s new economic realities, getting your brand and your message in front of the media is a growing challenge. Thanks to shrinking budgets, news producers are now being asked to do what used to be done by a reporter, producer, cameraman and sound tech. I’ve also noticed print reporters focusing a lot more on the web. This includes everything from creating unique content on the web (photo galleries, interactive tools, etc.) to negotiating embargoes that are best for the web.  The days of breaking an embargo at 6 am, when the newspapers hit the doorsteps, are gone.

More Expectations

Before you begin to develop a pitch, keep these things in mind:

  • Traditional beats are widening, so reporters are being bombarded with more information than ever before
  • With a greater need to create web content, reporters are under increasing pressure to get stories out quickly
  • Reduced staff means less time to devote to “soft” news stories

Change your Pitch

The strategy for pitching has evolved too. A basic press kit – fact sheet, release, bios – likely won’t cut it anymore. That’s because a simple written article isn’t what the reporter needs. Consider providing the following:

  • Packaged video content, including high-resolution b-roll
  • A photo gallery or illustration
  • A complementary story for an online edition

Understand your Audience

Larger outlets, like the Washington Post, have condensed or eliminated many of the softer sections (Home, Food, Health) and national bureaus to focus on politics and Washington news. The softer sections still exist, but in different forms. The Health section, for example, has no full-time staff writers, so the paper is dependent on freelancers. That can be good, because it means new people to pitch, but it can also make it harder to figure out who you should be pitching. The section has also been running more syndicated content, including that from Consumer Reports and Kaiser Health News.

To pitch a larger, traditional outlet, I find it best to keep the story focused on trends.  I could have the best medical story, but if it isn’t going to resonate with a national audience, it’s useless. But if I can find a way to tie in with a bigger story – such as health reform – my chances of getting noticed improve.  I’m also focusing more on building relationships with freelancers, as another avenue into some of the larger outlets.

On the other hand, more local or hyperlocal web-based outlets are popping up, providing a great opportunity to target a specific geographic area. To reach this audience, you have to make your pitch relevant. Provide a subject in the area to illustrate your point. Pull data from that certain area and have it ready for the reporter or blogger.

This changing media environment has definitely added some frustration.  But if we learn to adapt, I think there are great opportunities to get out strong messages.

Okay, for those of you who are regular readers of my blog, I promise I’m not becoming a car blogger, but…

During the Superbowl, I was surprised by the ad for the new Dodge Charger. Now those of you who know me well know that I’m a sucker for a muscle car.  And lately, I’ve had my eye on this one.   Of course the Charger goes way back (like the ’73 beauty driven by Michael and Fiona in “Burn Notice.”) One of the options on the new model is a ridiculously powerful 6.1-liter SRT® HEMI® V8 5-speed.  A girl can dream.

So imagine my surprise when the ad unfolded as a paean to the wounded male ego.  A car to salve the soul of the beleaguered husband, which the ad defines as a guy who is forced by his wife to “separate the recycling” and “put the seat down.” Oh puh-lease.  Guys still get to run 487 of the Fortune 500, and have 444 seats out of 535 in both houses of Congress, okay?

What really upset me about the ad, though, was not its false premise that marriage emasculates men and women rule the world. What really bugged me was the fact that Dodge was saying to me “you’re not our customer.” Wow.  That hurts.  I was actually seriously thinking about becoming your customer. And maybe so were other women.  And, we car-driving womenfolk actually watch the Superbowl (we’ve done it for years now).

Maybe the folks at Dodge have decided their brand will settle for targeting 49% of the market, instead of 100%. And with this ad, they’re only targeting a small subset of that 49%–married guys who are super-insecure and don’t like to separate the recycling.

So what did the ad do for the Dodge brand?  Well, it certainly got a lot of attention. In addition to the getting eyeballs during the Superbowl’s largest viewership in history, the ad’s have close to 765,000 views on YouTube. And plenty of controversy on blogs other than this one.  As David Ogilvy famously said, “any publicity is good publicity.”

But maybe he wouldn’t say that in this day and age, when a bad impression can be multiplied and amplified millions of times over through social media.  My own take is that a company needs to be very careful with both market segmentation and humor. It can be done brilliantly, of course.  (Case in point, the IBM “training” film that spoofed The Office and shot up sales of mainframes.)  But it can also fail miserably, and lead to an actual degradation of your market share.

The jury’s still out on the Charger.  But they lost at least one customer.


Feb 12, 2007 – After I wrote the previous post, this video response to the Charger ad surfaced on YouTube.

Take the Short Poll at the End of this Post!

On February 1st Toyota announced its now-famous recall of eight models of 2005-2010 cars and trucks and stopped its production lines due to an accelerator pedal issue .  It had signalled the recall days earlier, in an announcement on January 21st.  By this Friday, February 5th, according to Toyota all dealers will have special parts to solve the issue and will handle free replacements.

Did Toyota react fast enough to save its name?

Some say no. Toyota should have known of the problem earlier, due to reports of acceleration-related accidents recorded by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) as early as 2002.  After four people in a Lexus were killed when their car accelerated into an intersection and hit an SUV last August, Toyota had already received more than 2,000 complaints of similar issues.   Toyota could have “connected the dots”  sooner, and saved lives and perhaps its stake in the auto market for years to come.  On the other hand, their fast response once they did issue the recall, and their ability to reach out to customers and the press through multiple channels–television, press conferences, social media and their own website–has helped the company’s image.  Crisis communications experts always cite the Tylenol poisoning case of 1982, when manufacturer Johnson & Johnson recalled more than 20 million bottles of Extra Strength Tylenol, destroyed them all, and developed new tamper-resistant packaging, and then communicated all of these steps to the public, early and often.

What can other brands learn from Toyota?

  1. Not Listening to Your Customers Can Kill Your Brand.
  2. Not Working with Others Who Serve Your Customer (i.e. NHSTA) Hurts Your Brand.
  3. Developing a Solution-Oriented Response Helps.
  4. Communicate Everything, Early, Often.
  5. If You Don’t Already Have Multiple Channels for Reaching Your Customer and Decision-Influencers (the press, experts), Put Them in Place Now!