The rapid convergence of digital and wireless technology has broken down traditional barriers to global communication. It has also made pitching stories to African and Asian reporters from desks in Washington, New York, and London a seemingly easy task.
I say seemingly easy because pitching stories across geographies, cultures, and languages is never really easy, even for communications professionals who have lived and worked overseas for many years.
Following are four best practices that the Ogilvy Washington media team have learned from our experiences with pitching media in emerging markets. (We recently presented these and other lessons learned in a Red Ed seminar in Washington, and I want to thank Jenna McIntyre, Rachel Henderson, Lisa Charnitski, and Teagan Knapp for their contributions!) We hope to engage some of our Ogilvy colleagues in west Africa to follow up with their own comments and insights soon.
1. Txt msgs r key! It’s important to understand which technologies provide the most direct affordable access to media in developing nations where bandwidth remains expensive, newsroom computers are often shared across dozens of correspondents, and newspaper servers are frequently shut down by load shedding. For reporters in many regions of Africa and South Asia, mobile phones are the single most important tool of the trade. If you aren’t keeping up with reporters by text message, you aren’t really in touch with them.
2. Ask reporters for their personal email address. Many reporters rely on free personal webmail accounts provided by Yahoo, Gmail, and Hotmail to stay in touch with their sources and file stories with their editors via cybercafes. That’s why we ask reporters in most sub-Saharan African countries to provide their mobile numbers and personal emails when we connect with them. Having this information gives us a relatively reliable way to stay in touch, especially in countries where landlines are oversubscribed and the national energy grid is overtaxed. Many media outlets still shut down their servers at night to save on energy costs, so personal email remains a better option in many countries.
3. Give reporters the “local angle.” This is the first lesson from Pitching 101, right? Of course. But many clients still need guidance to understand what constitutes a “local pitch” in Accra, Lagos, Kampala, and Lusaka. Suggesting to reporters in Ghana that they should be interested in a story because it is about “Africa” is like suggesting to reporters in Des Moines that they should be interested in a story because it is about “North America.” It’s just not going to work. Reporters in emerging markets ask the same questions that local reporters in the United States ask: “So What?” “Why should I care?” “What’s in it for my readers?” “How can I make this interesting to my editor?” If you don’t have good answers to these universal queries, you aren’t going to place your story. That’s why it’s so important to work with clients to convince them of the need for segmented pitches that highlight country-specific data and identify local experts and thought leaders who can provides informed quotes and commentary.
4. When the story is important, bring in the pros. While the digital world has brought all of us closer together, real insights and real relationships still matter. So if a major ocean churns between you and the reporters you want to reach, it’s always advisable – budget permitting – to engage a local media relations team that is staffed with experts who speak the language, know the culture, understand the politics, and know the media environment inside and out. With the rapid growth and diversification of civil society and media in many sub-Saharan, Middle Eastern, and South Asian countries over the past two decades, media relations has become a distinct trade and a highly relevant expertise. Taking the time to identify the best media relations teams on the ground is well worth the effort when the story matters.
As noted above, we hope to engage some emerging market media experts in a follow-up conversation soon. Stay tuned!