Approaching Sensitive News Cycles Without Guns Blazing
Today’s media landscape can be an intimidating place. With top headlines touting sensitive topics like geopolitical warfare, the 2020 U.S. Presidential election, and industry competition, it’s easy to see why many organizations shy away from entering the conversation. But not all sensitive subjects need to be scary to broach from a communications perspective.
In fact, our security practice recently had noteworthy success inserting commentary from clients into the media conversation surrounding Iran’s speculated cyber warfare retaliation on the U.S., following the death of a prominent Iranian military general – an incredibly sensitive topic by all accounts. By leveraging strategic, forward-thinking insights surrounding the news cycle, the Highwire team was able to strategically secure coverage in publications like Fortune, AP, Recode, The Hill and Financial Times that positioned subject matter experts as industry thought leaders.
Taking a deeper look at best practices when it comes to approaching sensitive subjects, here are a few of our tried and true tips and tricks for dipping your toes in the contentious media landscape without being too controversial.
Play to Your Strengths
In order to craft compelling commentary, you need to first identify your company’s tie to the story at hand. Inevitably, there will be hundreds of other companies that are attempting to connect their thoughts to the exact same story. Pinpoint a way that you can offer a unique perspective to cut through the noise.
There are many ways to do this. One example is playing up the thought leader’s background and how it makes him or her an expert on the topic at hand. In the recent Iran cyber threat news cycle, we leveraged a spokesperson’s involvement with the House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee to establish authority on the topic, which led to a briefing and coverage in The Hill.
Another approach is to take advantage of specific technology considerations and news elements at play. For example, one of the biggest concerns in the Iran-U.S. cyber tension story was phishing and other social engineering tactics being used against government employees – a media and thought leadership gold mine for any phishing expert!
Leveraging relationships with influential media who know your business and respect your brand is also key. Many times, coverage is earned as a result of an ongoing relationship with a reporter. If you’re apprehensive about getting your message out there, run it by a reporter that you trust before disseminating your message widely.
Compelling Commentary Doesn’t Need to be Negative
Part of the reason our clients had such success in securing placements around the Iranian-cyber warfare news cycle was because we were able to work with our clients to strategically craft commentary that was compelling, without inciting fear, uncertainty or doubt.
Often when we have clients who are apprehensive about commenting on sensitive stories, it is because there tends to be a premonition that compelling commentary needs to be negative and controversial. This is not true.
The best way to get involved in a story is to provide a unique perspective (as aforementioned) and offer a solution to the problem at hand. With this news cycle, we were able to leverage executive commentary that was forward-thinking and offered a suggested outcome based on expertise and insights that had been gained from witnessing similar incidents play out in the past.
Don’t Force it if it Doesn’t Fit
With all that being said, perhaps most importantly, you should never feel like you have to comment on a topic if it’s not a fit. Journalists are looking for sources that have a direct tie to the story at hand and who add a new point of view to the discussion. If the expertise and connection to the story is a stretch and your spokespeople are simply sharing more of the same thoughts as other sources, it’s best to sit the news cycle out.
Uncertainty can be a scary place, but so is inaction. We find that some of our most compelling results are gleaned as a result of proactive outreach, or outreach that would not have occurred unless inspired by a direct tie to a story or reporter or news cycle – and that’s regardless of industry.
Anything else that we missed? Feel free to let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org, and let us know if you’re attending RSA! We’d love to connect with you.