How to Adapt Pitches to Evolving Storylines

two men carrying a table for a woman helping her pack and move out of her house.
Laborjack employees helping a woman move.

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As we enter this post-pandemic world, the only thing that’s certain is that people are making changes. While many people are returning to the office, some are deciding not to return to work at all, and others yet are changing careers and even moving across the country. How does this impact us as PR professionals? We have to be comfortable with pitching into trends we don’t yet fully understand.

We encountered this in a recent pitching effort with our client Laborjack, a company that relies on a variable force of gig workers to complete a variety of jobs like moving, landscaping and event staffing. Like a lot of businesses, especially restaurants, Laborjack is struggling to find people to work for them, despite an average pay rate of $26 per hour and flexible work hours. This is happening as Colorado’s unemployment rate continues to drop and is almost back to pre-pandemic levels.

Labor shortages in a time where there seems to be an endless supply of jobs is a curious phenomenon. And while we can’t quite understand it, our job as PR professionals is to spot national and local trends where our clients can fit into the story.

Below we’ve outlined a few of the lessons we learned on how to get coverage in such complex and evolving stories and the advice we shared with our clients on how to navigate these uncertain times.

Don’t be an armchair expert

While it’s easy to speculate on topics like the economy, unfortunately, none of our team members has a degree in economics. It’s important to make sure the message focuses on only what you know for certain. With Laborjack, we shared anecdotes about their experience as a local small business struggling to hire employees. We discussed their incentives and benefits to workers like increased hourly pay and flexible hours. While a client may not be an expert in markets and labor shortages, remind them that they are experts in something, such as attempting to run a small business through a global pandemic, and that in itself is compelling. Leave the numbers and speculation to the professionals.

Monitor for new and relevant trends

As we mentioned before, we must be comfortable with evolving and changing trends, which means positioning our clients and messaging in an easily adaptable manner. This means taking time each day to research top stories in the industry and following along with experts to monitor for new and emerging trends. Again, this doesn’t mean pitching your client as the unofficial expert on a topic, but journalists are always looking for colorful experiences to boost their stories. A few ways to take advantage of this is to set Google Alerts for specific topics and keep an eye on tools like HARO (Help A Reporter Out), where journalists post requests for sources.

Avoid slippery slope arguments

We’ve all been there. We see a trending story that is a perfect fit for our client and we want to pitch every single reporter who is talking about it. However, being picky about which storylines to pitch your clients can help you avoid a slippery slope argument. When topics are robust and complicated, it’s human nature to want to find a single narrative. However, this often excludes a lot of important details from real people and their very real struggles.

An example we came across in our work related to labor shortages was the idea that workers are simply lazy and don’t want to return to work. While this may certainly be the case for some people, we also found reports from people who couldn’t yet return to work for very real reasons. This narrative excluded workers who couldn’t find or afford childcare, parents whose kids were still attending school virtually, people with compromised immune systems and frontline workers who needed a break after continuing to work through the worst parts of the pandemic. These are all very real reasons not to return to work, and collectively assuming that people are just lazy discounts the experiences of others and might end up alienating the exact people a client is trying to reach.

Through each of these lessons, our team was able to implement a successful strategy that resulted in a top story with the Denver Business Journal and its sister publication Colorado Inno, which included our client in its daily newsletter. Both of these hits were major goals for our client. We have also received interest from national reporters and are continuing to adapt our pitching strategy to accommodate evolving storylines.

While the world of public relations is no stranger to dynamic news cycles, it’s likely the financial, economic and technological worlds will be turned upside down for the foreseeable future. Flexibility, collaboration and understanding are key attributes your team must have to successfully navigate these times and implement a successful PR strategy through 2021.

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