For public relations-savvy organizations that work hard at making news, navigating a media landscape dominated by “breaking news” can be a challenge. In a world where the media is focused on feeding the 24-hour news cycle, businesses and their PR partners must operate with a real-time mindset in order to capitalize on opportunities to generate positive buzz within a real-time context.

We’re not suggesting that reactive media pitching should be the centerpiece of every PR program. But being “proactively reactive” can be an effective strategy for positioning brands and companies as relevant – whether you’re responding to national news or a local hot topic.

Here are 4 things to keep in mind:

  1. Prioritize accuracy over speed.

The need to fill every hour with compelling content puts tremendous pressure on journalists to develop their next big story. PR teams typically have a small window of 24 to 48 hours to respond to breaking news. But speed often trumps accuracy – which contributes to the spread of misinformation. So, while time may be of the essence, it is critical to ensure that the quality of the content you provide is never compromised.

  1. Stay on brand.

Lean on your PR partner to help make sure the messaging and tone of pitching and response content is consistent with your brand identity. At Caryl, we counsel clients to steer clear of overtly negative commentary – even when the news itself is not positive.

For example, when national retailer Bed Bath & Beyond filed for bankruptcy in April 2023, we quickly let media know that one of our seasoned retail real estate clients was available to discuss the impact of future store closings. Despite requests from reporters for comment on what went wrong, our pitch concentrated on the opportunities that an anchor vacancy creates. P.S.: the resulting coverage was excellent, including an interview with CNBC and other target outlets.

  1. Avoid stories that are controversial or tragic.

News organizations often report shocking or emotionally charged stories to capture audience attention. But hitching your wagon to a sensational story for the sake of coverage can end up doing more harm than good if the messaging is seen as biased or insensitive. Taking a thoughtful approach is essential to maintaining integrity – and your firm’s credibility. If a story is politically charged, we might suggest an engagement where the message is controlled, such as an editorial or opinion piece.

And we typically avoid engaging in tragic stories, unless there is a specific and appropriate connection with the situation. Earlier this year, for example, a respected commercial real estate publication asked us if one of our clients would share his thoughts on the passing of New Jersey’s Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver. Due to the nature of the client organization’s relationship with the late Lt. Governor, we accommodated the request with a carefully thought-out, written statement.

  1. Be prepared.

You may not be able to predict the next hot story, but you can be proactive rather than simply waiting for news to break. The secret to success: laying the groundwork ahead of time.

  • Keep current. Being aware of what’s happening in the world is a given, but keeping tabs on events and trends that matter is just as important. Again, a knowledgeable PR partner will be doing this as a matter of course. But their clients should also be up on what’s making news for their sector. Subscribe to digital versions of industry-specific media, and follow journalists on social media. Google Alerts and keyword searches are simple hacks for staying on top of what’s being covered by the media world.
  • Ensure leadership buy-in. Getting your organization’s leadership on board in advance is the key to capitalizing on breaking news. Be clear about the value to your overall PR strategy and what will be required on their part. Provide examples of relevant situations and stories, and agree on what’s appropriate. Work with your PR partner to create a content library of pre-approved messaging and data, and develop a process for coordinating timely approvals of story responses.
  • Make life easy for journalists. A PR partner who understands what reporters want and how they operate enables the development of highly targeted pitches that will get attention. Communications should be short and to the point. And don’t forget that busy journalists are always looking for well-crafted content to plug into websites and social media.

With our network and long-time media relations experience, Caryl Communications helps clients across a range of industries think ahead to how their thought leadership can contribute to big-picture conversations triggered by news events. Connect with us at (201) 796-7788 or