The morning after President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, the political press churned out countless stories framed around the president’s remarks on the middle class and terrorism, the Republican reaction, as well as Michelle Obama’s dress. During this time, more than 70 public relations professionals attended a Public Relations Society of America-National Capital Chapter panel discussion on how communications professionals can use earned media opportunities with annual milestones, such as the State of the Union, to their advantage.

The panel –  Nancy White, director of AAA Public Affairs; Liz Garman, vice president of communications at the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC); and Linda Rozett, vice president for communications at the American Petroleum Institute (API) –  offered a lot of advice for attendees, including five steps for anticipating tomorrow’s news and reaching public relations goals

1. Win C-Suite Buy-In For Jumping on Big Stories:

Panelists agreed that buy-in from internal executives begins with convincing the c-suite of earned media’s value. While some CEOs are supportive of a proactive media relations approach, others can be hesitant. Both Rozett and White recommended your team have a conversation with the CEO and convince him/her about what works and doesn’t work with media outreach. During this meeting, it is important to communicate not only goals, but also a strategy that is both supported by metrics and connected to the organization’s business objectives.

In addition, panelists urged regular media training workshops to lower the intimidation factor for leaders who, Rozett said, are wary of the media in the first place.

2. Anticipate Big News Before It Happens:

White said the best way to anticipate big news is to follow developments closely and understand the day’s major news stories before you commute to work.
Garman recommended having designated spokespeople briefed on talking points and ready at a moment’s notice. During the Ebola scare, she said that while her peer organizations were scrambling to prep their message points and spokespeople, APIC was ahead of the story, which helped her organization steer the national discourse.

3. Know How To Insert Yourself Into the News Cycle and Break Through the Clutter:

Give reporters a reason to quote you and always remember that “news needs news hooks,” said White. Also, she said it is critical to constantly nurture relationships with members of the media and have your own original data ready – which can include member survey results – to give reporters a reason to cover you. Rozett recommended working months in advance on events like the State of the Union. API, for example, produced what’s called the “State of Energy” report and released it during the same news cycle as the president’s address.

Bridging to what reporters want to cover is important, too. White said that public relations professionals need to shift the conversation to your messages.

4. Use Social Media Before, During and After Big News:

The consensus of the panelists was that social media is an important tool that complements your traditional media efforts. However, it is important to maintain an active social media presence throughout the year. Rozett noted that traditional news stories drive social media conversation; therefore, it is important to constantly engage with reporters and be prepared to comment when news stories spike on social media. She also noted the importance of preparing social media posts and shareables in advance and using a variety of mediums to extend the coverage of a story.

An underrated use of social media for public relations teams is its ability to set the record straight, said Garman. By staying on top of the news and trending social media topics, her organization is able to present statistics and visuals to help keep the conversation from going too far off course.

5. Report Results to Internal and External Stakeholders:

Analysis and reporting is not reserved for after the media hype dies off. All panelists agree that regular reporting to stakeholders is imperative for getting support for future media efforts, as well as securing additional funds in future years. During the Ebola scare, Garman said that her organization sent its members daily CEO emails with updates on what was happening in the news and how they were responding. In addition, it is important to keep your organization’s legal team briefed on your activity and easily on-hand for advice on how to comment before a reporter’s deadline passes.

Getting earned media placements can be extremely difficult during a major news event; however, panelists agree that these steps will put you in a better position for being a go-to media source when the next big story breaks.

This post is based on a PRSA-NCC report written by Robert Krueger, director of public relations and social media at the Urban Land Institute (ULI).

Geoff Livingston, Capitol Communicator’s media strategist, was at the PRSA-NCC session and you can find his insights here.

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