Timeliness; I remember the first time I heard about the concept in the context of public relations. It was during college when I was taking my first PR writing course. My professor was lecturing about the elements needed for any good press release.
Timeliness, in a nutshell, is the perception that your story is relevant. It seems like an easy enough concept to grasp—no one wants to hear about something that’s outdated or no longer newsworthy. Any journalist will tell you this. Crafting a relevant piece is easy to do when you have a story about an event or anniversary where there is a clear date to work around. But how do you approach stories that don’t really have anything to do with a particular time?
The answer is that you have to find a way to make it timely. I’m reminded of a quote from Oliver Cromwell, who said, ”Not only strike while the iron is hot, but make it hot by striking.”
Maybe you have an interesting story about a couple who has been married for decades, but their anniversary has already passed. You can angle the story as an advice for newlyweds piece from a long-time couple during the summer, which is wedding season. Or maybe you have a senior who has recently taken up line dancing. Well, July is Dance Appreciation Month, so you can write the story from that perspective. There are ways to subtly morph feature stories into timely stories that journalists will care about.
Sometimes you have to get creative with making your story relevant. You can always do a quick Google search to see what the current month or days/weeks during that month commemorate. For example, most Americans know February to be Black History Month and October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Certain industries and trades have their own special celebrations, like National Assisted Living Week (September 7 – 13 this year) and National Rehabilitation Week (September 21 – 27). Sometimes, there are even days dedicated to a certain subject, like National Donut Day, which is the first Friday of June.
If you can’t find a commemorative time that works for your story, you can look to the news. Did recent news break that can tie in with your story? One famous example of brands perfectly responding to what’s going on is the famous “You Can Still Dunk in the Dark” tweet from Oreo Cookie. The message was sent during the blackout at the Superdome during Super Bowl XLVII. The brand saw an opportunity to get its message across and found the perfect way to execute it.
That being said, it is also important to pay attention to the news for the opposite reason. One must be careful to not send out a message that could be seen as insensitive during a difficult or tragic time. An example of this is when American Apparel decided to hold a “Hurricane Sandy Sale” in the states the storm hit the hardest.
It is our job as PR professionals to know which story to send, when the timing is best and how the story should be pitched. Whether it’s an advertisement or a press release, the timeliness of the content has the power to affect the relationship (whether positively or negatively) these brands hold with the public.