Shark Week: Media bait, or PR peeps chomping at the bit?

Shark Week
As both a PR pro and a completely rational citizen of the world, I love Shark Week. From an industry standpoint, I’m amazed at how the Discovery Channel has successfully created an annual event that is both a perennial PR boon for sharks and an increasingly popular platform for brands to get exposure through paid media. As a regular consumer (who helps drive that mania), my point of view is simpler: SHARKS ERMAHGERD SO AWESOME.

The network has done an impressive job capturing that awesomeness, creating a week of programming that perfectly captures sharks’ exciting combination of mystery, power and danger. But even more dangerous than the predators featured during this hallowed time period is the age-old question that inevitably springs up in the minds of PR peeps everywhere: “How can I leverage this with media by tying my clients to it?”

I get it: we see brands paying their way to success with fin-tastic (sorry – that was lame) TV ads, sponsorships and product placement. So we think: there must be a way to squeeze some earned media mileage out of this for my clients. But should we even go there?

In the PR world, it’s tempting – especially in the consumer sect – to tie our agency charges to every current event and trend happening in the endless pop culture news cycle. This is particularly true in the summer, which is historically a slow time for client news and media interaction, as reporters are out of office, on vacation and generally less enthused about pitches coming their way.

But just as the classic adage “all PR is good PR” is patently false, so too is the notion that any pitch is good as long as you’re getting your client’s name out there.

As we’ve seen with Shark Week – and every other current event– weak pitches are chum for media: they can smell the desperation quicker than a shark detects blood in the water. And when you and your clients are involved, the ensuing attack can be fatal.

As with any bad pitch, if you make a weak – or worse, completely unrelated – tie to a current event or trend when approaching media, you’re going to be (rightfully) shaded by whomever you’re pitching. The best-case scenario is that they delete the email from their inbox and go about their day. The worst (and more likely) scenario is that you’ve now compromised your reputation with that contact, and ultimately, your client’s reputation with that media outlet. In either case, no coverage is earned and everyone involved has had their time wasted.

Admittedly, there are times when the pitch or storyline you’ve created for your client will work, garnering a timely and effective piece of coverage. So how do you know when to dive into the frenzy or stay out of the water? Asking yourself these simple questions can help you make the right decision:

Does this even make sense for my client?
Start by realistically thinking about if your client’s product or service directly ties into the narrative. Even when the obvious questions are eliminated (Does the brand feature a shark in any way?), it’s OK to think creatively (perhaps you have a product that uses technology also utilized by shark researchers). However, you must remain realistic in your expectations of where the story might be a fit. Which brings us to the next question:

Will this be a fit for my media contacts?
Even if your pitch is well-written and relevant, consider who might care. It may seem like an obvious fit for your client-loving friendlies, but go the additional mile and see if (and how) they’ve covered the specific topic or event before. For recent trends or breaking news, determine if it’s on their radar from what they’ve covered to date. For recurring events like niche holidays, research how they’ve approached them in the past so you can ensure you’re bringing a fresh take. Also, knowing your audience will help avoid potential snafus. For example, your fun Shark Week note to a pop culture editor at a popular lifestyle site might seem spot-on, but doing a quick scan of their social channels can help determine if your (or their) snark might negatively affect the communication.

Is the ultimate message one that benefits my client’s end goals?
As with any pitch, ask yourself if the eventual coverage will move the needle. Sure, it’s great that you had a creative idea that ties perfectly to the trend in question, but what will it do to drive your client’s business? Aligning your client with an of-the-moment idea will undoubtedly get them eyeballs, but think about how it positions them to consumers after the news cycle has turned over.

If you’re answering ‘No’ to any of the above questions, you should likely steer clear of pitching. And if you must get involved, try getting involved on social media as it’s typically a safer (and more creative) place to play with your content.

In the case of Shark Week, it’s certainly been a time to soak up the media spotlight for some lucky brands (see: Katy Perry, Claire’s and the resurrection of Left Shark). But for every washed-up meme finding a resurgence, there’s a booze purveyor throwing up an ill-advised Hail Mary. Don’t let that be you.

Erin Keaveney
Senior Account Manager

Photo Credit: Discovery

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Posted on July 9, 2015 in Media

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