Expert Insights

Media Relations Advice for a Busy Autumn News Cycle

September 30, 2020

By Ryan Richert, Executive Director, Global Media

As we enter a busy fall news cycle in the US, three themes dominate headlines: COVID-19, racial justice and the 2020 elections. All three have significant implications on the stories we can pitch in the coming weeks. We must be both sensitive and flexible as we interact with media and also mindful of the communities impacted by these stories when planning media relations strategies.

Brands have many questions about media pitching in this busy news cycle, so Golin earned media experts have answered a few of them. As always, specific counsel depends on the actual pitch:

  • Are reporter layoffs still an issue? The 36,000 reporter layoffs, furloughs and pay reductions announced last spring are still with us, which means fewer reporters to cover more news. Reporters that remain sometimes churn out 3-4 stories daily. Show patience and empathy when pitching media and conduct careful research to ensure contacts are current.
  • When should we pitch holiday stories this year? In July, Parade published a piece on 50 funny Thanksgiving jokes for the whole family. Target skipped its back-to-school push and spoke about the winter holidays in July, as well. Expect to see an onslaught of coverage about Zoom Thanksgivings, the changing face of Black Friday and shifting holiday travel and spending habits. Brands that can insert themselves into those storylines in a natural way will have better odds of attracting media attention.
  • Do virtual desksides work? Deskside briefings were falling out of favor even before COVID-19. Media often don’t have the time to meet unless there is a strong hook – a major launch or new technology that must be demonstrated. Think about your story first, then evaluate if a deskside is really necessary.
  • How about virtual events? Are they booking? Yes, if they’re well-planned and produced. An editor tells Golin to consider the following tips:
    • Be efficient. Start on time and keep it to 20-30 minutes
    • Offer at least two choices for event times since many editors are parents juggling virtual learning responsibilities for their children
    • Keep the virtual group intimate (maximum of 10) with like-minded editors and reporters
    • Show an actual demonstration (or a presentation featuring all the new innovations)
  • What do we need to keep in mind when pitching outlets/media contacts targeting diverse audiences? Diverse communities have a different experience with COVID-19 as they have been highly impacted by it. Golin has summarized news, reports and studies on the impact of COVID-19 on diverse communities here. Keep this impact in mind, as diverse segments’ coverage around COVID and its implications will be more sensitive from mainstream outlets. In addition, be mindful of how diverse communities are being impacted by the fight for racial justice.
  • How is the election coloring general media coverage? Any presidential election year naturally redirects a set of reporters to cover campaigns. This year, there are fewer reporters covering politics, and some were pulled off other beats to jump into the fray. Even sports reporters at ESPN have ditched the “stick to sports” mantra and are covering racial justice and politics. As with any election year, it will be more difficult to pitch unrelated stories this fall, particularly in swing states. And it could be several days or weeks before we know the winners of some races, which would dominate the news cycle.
  • How difficult is it to pitch an op-ed right now? Opinion editorials remain very difficult to secure due to the news cycle. Unless the point of view is highly controversial and unique, think about the intended goal and audience and consider LinkedIn, Medium or regional outlets instead of national media. Trade media outlets will also consider bylines that provide a fresh, authoritative take on their industry.
  • Are any healthcare reporters covering non-COVID-19 stories? Yes, but not many. COVID-19 has dominated coverage from health reporters. Non-COVID coverage focuses on major company news, like IPOs, clinical trials and FDA approvals. Health trades have been a good bet for niche industry stories during the COVID-19 crisis, barring major news. Reporters are also covering consumer-facing health issues resulting from COVID, such as anxiety, depression and social isolation.

While no one can predict exactly how the news cycle might evolve in the coming weeks, one thing is certain: we will not see any slow news days for quite some time. Careful planning can help you determine when and where your story is best told in this environment.

* If you have questions or are seeking counsel, please reach out to Ryan at