Secret #6: Timing is Everything.

Chances are you have never heard of a Zune. A Zune is the New Coke of MP3 players that Microsoft launched to try and compete with Apple’s iPod. It was a catch up attempt to capture the lucrative MP3 player market, and it failed miserably.

Your stories, product launch or announcement can have the same fate as the Zune if you don’t figure out the right timing, the right audience and the right channel to get the word out to. I know that this seems like an extreme example of bad timing, but I bring it up for one important reason — all the signs were there way ahead of time that this was not going to go well.

Do Your Homework

The Zune is a classic example of a product (and narrative) that was trying to play catch up with an already market dominant offering from Apple. What this teaches us about timing, any kind of story timing for that matter, is that no matter how big you are, no matter how much money you spend on promotion or how great you think your story and/or product is, if the story has already been played out, then it won’t fly.

Reporters want stories that will captivate readers and get them to click and comment. If the mood of the country has shifted away from certain topics, no amount of stellar pitching or money will bring it back from the dead.

The question you need to always ask is: is the reporter looking for this story? In the case of the Zune, sure. The initial launch story- it’s Microsoft, it’s news that someone is going after the iPod. But ultimately, it was too little, too late and the only stories reporters wrote about the Zune was how much of a failure it was. So if that was the PR goal: mission accomplished.

Just remember that not everything you do is newsworthy, and you should also consider how things can go wrong when pitching a story. That’s why it’s important to do your homework and pitch the right reporters, the right story at the right time. Consider these essential items a must for any “pitch homework” you do:

  • Trending: Is the topic you want to release trending in the news or in your niche? Trending news always gets picked up faster.
  • Reporter Fit: Reporters have beats that they cover which means they only cover certain topics. Make sure that the reporters you pitch actually cover your topics.
  • Buzz Worthiness: All news has to have a buzz factor. Make your pitch and story more buzz worthy by offering exclusives or insights that are ahead of the news curve. Reporters love a good scoop.
  • Competing Stories: Are there other stories that are dominating the news that are more important? If so, your story might get lost in the noise and not get the reaction you were looking for, so you may want to wait to pitch.

A lot of this is subjective and based on experience and the relationships you have with reporters. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get hits right away. Sometimes timing is out of your hands. One other thing to consider is warming up before you pitch the big news outlets. Many an overanxious PR rookie has pitched something too soon without first warming up their pitching chops.

Don’t Delay. Strike While the Iron is Hot

Once you have an idea for a story and have done your homework, it’s essential that you don’t delay in pitching and following up with reporters. No matter how good a story, if the timing is off, nothing will happen. Reporters are constantly on deadlines, and they lose interest in stories quickly or will just jump onto the trending topic without blinking an eye.

Always keep in mind is that reporters are on a constant deadline. They need rapidly write the story, get it out in the world and move on. The typical story development cycle is less than a week, so getting the timing right on all aspects of a story (pitch, background material, etc.) will make it that much more likely that your story will get picked up. And always respond to respond to the reporter as soon as possible. They will know they can count on you and go to you over and over again.

Don’t Dwell on Missed Opportunities or Wait for Them

If you don’t give yourself enough lead time to tell the story, then you have a wasted PR opportunity. You should always give yourself at least one month if not two to prep for a news or product release. This prep includes who, what and where to pitch. If you do miss an opportunity, don’t dwell on it. There will always be other opportunities for press.

Waiting for that perfect PR storm is also a mistake since PR is more art than science. You might not know what will work for your company until you start doing it, so put stuff out there, make mistakes and learn from them.

The best thing to do is get your system down, make sure your press kit is up to date and build relationships with the reporters that cover your space so that you can help them help you get great press.

Stumbled Upon This?

This post is part of a 7 part series titled 7 PR Secrets Every Founder Should Know But Are Not Told. If you stumbled upon this searching the innerwebs, please join us for the full series. I would really appreciate it.