Gloria Dittus, Chairman of Story Partners, conducted an interview with Steve Clemons, who joined The Hill six months ago as Editor-at-Large. During the interview, Steve gave tips for executives to create opportunities to participate in media forums and to secure media coverage. Steve also shared about new platforms at The Hill and what offerings and events to expect next.
What is the most effective way for executives to land opportunities to participate in forums hosted by media outlets, i.e. The Hill’s Newsmaker Series?
Decide to share something behind the curtain. The truly interesting stories come from inside the CEO’s den. Tim Ryan of PwC thought he knew about race and zip code and gender identity challenges inside his company. But a killing in Dallas ignited tensions in his firm that he and his management team have been working to sort out and resolve. The ‘learning’ that he shared with me in an interview showed deep and authentic introspection. That’s so different from the CEOs who simply want to report all is great, rah-rah stories. Those are boring. Virgin’s Richard Branson and Cisco’s Chuck Robbins both go out of their way to try and hire convicts who deserve a second chance. That’s interesting. Beth Brooke, Vice-Chair of EY, has been pounding on the World Economic Forum to be better not only on gender but on LGBTQIA inclusion. That’s interesting and seems brave, in a way. Microsoft’s Brad Smith is warning us that tomorrow’s technology can be tools that help us or weapons against us. Interesting. Tom Fanning of Southern Company, a pretty staunch conservative, believes that there are real carbon capture tech solutions out there that are pro-energy and pro-environment and that these need to be deployed in China or we are all going to cook. Heather Bresch of Mylan can make the case that America is losing ground in the HIV battle compared to Africa because it’s failing to employ lessons learned from PEPFAR. That’s a bank shot. Qualcomm CEO Steven Mollenkopf can tell folks how 5G technology, which everyone knows will be the next skeletal structure of cities, can also revolutionize rural connectivity and farming with fixed millimeter waves. Interesting! What is not interesting is to hear a business executive talk about a predictable subject in a predictable way.
With so much happening in D.C. each day, what do you look for when determining coverage of a story or event?
We all live in a gusher of constant information today. Much of it is the same stuff laundered over and over again, derivative, unoriginal and recycled talking points. In determining what stories or events to cover, I look for surprising edges, hints of consequence, or an irregular pattern that differentiates that moment, or person, or idea in a very crowded marketplace.
What tips can you share for public affairs professionals to most effectively get their message to Beltway reporters?
Make it really clear why the story is interesting; in the first line. Almost no one does that. Most PR pros are trying to make a client happy in their pitches when they really should put their effort into understanding what might bridge with a particular writer’s interests. Do a search of the kinds of stories a correspondent covers and get a sense of the angles and subject matter that appear in that writer’s work — and then use that as a basis for outreach, or a pitch. Don’t treat members of the media as if they are automatons to whom to broadcast and blindly pitch stories. Many journalists are their own version of public intellectuals. They usually have a deep understanding of the issues they cover or are on their way to knowing the nuts and bolts of how a story should be revealed.
Can you share a few tips that communications and PR professionals should keep in mind when trying to draw reporters to their organization’s events?
If all events were consequential and really interesting, getting media to cover them would be easy. But not all events are equal, and the overworked correspondent tends to think it’s more productive to cover hearings, or the Halls of Congress, or to interview subjects directly rather than spend a lot of time at an event. To up the chances of coverage, consider doing side sessions with political and policy notables with a roundtable of a number of media on the sidelines of the event. That intimacy and focus of conversation with the talent that has been lined up with the event will generate a lot more coverage and media engagement. If your event is a policy-related gathering, always have questions. Always — even if just one. Invest in a great moderator or interviewer who knows that the objective is to help a consequential story to be revealed to the audience. The audience matters far more than the speaker. It’s about the people who attend — not the speaker.
You’ve discussed your plans on building The Hill’s 3D journalism and thought leadership platforms. What can we expect to see rolling out?
I’ve been at The Hill for six months now, and our 3D journalism platforms are already growing in scale, geographic reach, and complexity. We are producing big tent policy summits, thought leader gatherings both large and small, taking our ideas and people and conversations and embedding them into other large association forums. Events are platforms for story-telling and story-challenging. Most of our events have been in Washington historically, but in 2020 you will see The Hill produce a wide variety of policy events on the thorniest and most interesting political, economic and social challenges today. What makes what we are going to do differently from the rest of the industry is that we know how to give policy discussions edge. Too many events platforms today are turning into political advocacy rather than a real 360-degree debate — and that debate is what is consequential. I was surprised and pleased to learn that The Hill turns out to be the largest political media platform in the nation and that its brand is known not only throughout the country but also globally. We are up there with the best in the media business in quality and breadth — and we have permission, it seems to me, to take our journalism in all its forms — in our articles and opinion pieces at The Hill, in our daily broadcasts on Hill TV (which has a huge audience), in our newsletters, and of course, in our 3D journalism/events to a nationally interested and engaged audience. And did I say I love a great Ideas Fest? Particularly a turbo-charged, radically bipartisan, scratch your head all day because of the brain-stretching stuff on stage Ideas Fest? Stay tuned.