What to consider when considering national PR

May 26, 2021

Like politics, all news is local—but it’s also all national. What does that mean? Let’s discuss.

Over the past several months, Elizabeth Christian Public Relations (ECPR) has started working with multiple clients with national operations and interests. As an agency that has been known to focus on Texas, we have still had reason to work with national media as well as media from markets across the country. Lately, we’re thinking nationally more and more even as we leverage the local and regional strategies that have been so successful for our clients over the years.

Furthermore, what happens in Texas is of increasing interest nationally as we’re seen as a place of business growth with dynamics in politics, culture and more that influence many other places.

This has us talking about what clients need to know about endeavoring into national public relations. Just because a business or campaign may have national stakeholders doesn’t mean that local markets aren’t important. What’s more, differentiating and standing out on the national stage is a different level than doing so in your home state. This has implications for clients’ timelines, discussions on what is newsworthy and the overall learning curve.

Q: What changes when the scale of media and outreach goes national?

A: Certainly, it takes longer for your PR firm to build, manage and pitch a national media list. The reason—depending on a client’s industry and target audiences—is that this effort may include pitching to hundreds of national general interest or business outlets as well as trade publications and key “battleground states” or other markets of importance. That’s not to mention influencers, associations, et al. The difference can be exponential.

Q: How does the approach to local media matter when it is across the country?

A: While media outlets with national readership/viewership are always impressive and impactful, there are times where the story is truly of local relevance or when your business interests demand that you show a community-based affinity or understanding. This is where local media targeting can be critical. An example might be an area where you seek to grow that is known for a locals-first culture. In these situations, you must take the time to build up trust and familiarity by thinking small in a big-picture way.

Q: In a crisis, how does the balance of local vs. national media typically work?

A: Crises are—to a certain extent—inevitable, and sometimes a communication crisis elevates to a national level. This can be because of the head-turning nature of a natural or man-made catastrophe or due to a novelty factor. In these situations, national attention can be vexing, but that does not mean that the outcome must be negative. Certainly, your business needs to give due consideration to local media contacts as a matter of deference and ongoing relationships. But the national outlets have huge audiences and a crisis is an opportunity to show what your leadership and your company are made of—like it or not. In a crisis, we like to treat every legitimate media outlet like a VIP and help them do their job, because you rely on their good experience to reflect in their coverage.

Q: When does local media coverage help with a national audience?

A: Few brands can start with national press. Your operations are likely local or regional before they extend coast to coast. This is the natural scaling of your messaging platform, and it’s important to show your readiness to national reporters, editors and producers. These big outlets tend to Google you or scan your social media to see who has covered your business previously and how your spokespersons have performed in interviews. It is important to remember that reporters are big consumers of other reporters’ work so every interview is like an audition for a grander stage.

Ultimately, as with buying a car… your mileage may vary when it comes to ramping up for a national PR push. What won’t change is the fact that there will be target geographic markets for your brand awareness, and they need to be handled like your PR firm is immersed in that community. And local coverage all adds up to the media’s and the public’s understanding of your brand as a national concern.

Finally, be prepared to make a sustained investment in earning your place in the national conversation. You can’t expect to simply show up, make a splash and then have the positive attention roll in. Rather, you must humbly demonstrate your commitment to support journalists’ work locally, regionally and nationally, and then follow through with a cadence of thoughtful pitching, announcements, thought leadership, contributions to national trends, etc. This is your pathway to becoming a national player.

If you would like to discuss how we can help, we’d welcome the opportunity.

David Wyatt is a senior vice president at ECPR