COVID-19: Best Practices for Media Relations
Conducting media relations can be tricky, especially in times of crisis, but the COVID-19 pandemic has put many companies in uncharted territory. Brands across every industry are paying attention to what’s happening with the virus, trying to figure out how they will be impacted and adjusting to our current reality. In the midst of transition, companies may have stories they want to share or that they feel are relevent to the news cycle.
However, given the sensitivities surrounding current events, deciding if and when to approach reporters isn’t cut and dry. Below we’ll share some insights for marketing and communications professionals to be mindful of, from what journalists are facing, the types of stories they’re covering and how PR pitches are being perceived.
It’s safe to say reporters don’t have time for a lot of unsolicited PR pitches right now. National and local news media are primarily focused on COVID-19 response efforts and already under-resourced to do so. If you pitch them on a story that isn’t related to the crisis or aligned with public interest, you’re likely to be ignored. What’s worse, you risk coming across as insincere or tone-def if you’re not careful – and damaging the relationship as a result.
Even in trade media, a lot of the coverage we’ve seen recently has been devoted to how industries are impacted by and responding to the virus. Reporters might be interested in hearing expert perspectives if you’re working with a relevent technology provider or manufacturer. Some outlets may also be running regular case studies or product roundups, but it’s important to examine carefully before approaching any reporters with non-virus-related news.
Meet journalists’ needs
While discretion should be priority number one right now, journalists aren’t completely averse to communications from brand PR and marketing teams. Now more than ever, it’s important to research and consider the storylines that are important to readers, listeners or viewers in order to effectively tell your story. Here are a few examples of scenarios that could warrant outreach:
- You are an organization that is providing financial relief efforts to hospitality workers facing unemployment.
- Your company makes hand sanitizer or personal protective equipment that is being donated to healthcare workers.
- You are a mechanical manufacturer that has transitioned production to focus on building parts for ventilators.
- You are a caterer who has recently shifted focus to provide meals for school systems who are feeding local students.
- You have immediate job openings and are committed to hiring people recently laid off due to the crisis.
- You are in the IT services field and can offer unique insights on the industry’s response or future outlook.
- You are a developer working on a major public project that is ahead of schedule due to less traffic.
A common theme with these scenarios is that they fit organically into the types of storylines many outlets are already covering. However, while community impact should help guide the way companies approach any storytelling efforts with media right now, the types of topics reporters are interested in can vary depending on media type and audience. To that extent, media relations still remains an exercise in strategy and relationship building.
Be a helping hand
Being a helpful and responsive source is even more impactful during times of crisis. Every chance you have to help a reporter swiftly deliver on a story they’re working on now is a solid step in building a relationship for the future. If you have an applicable storyline, make sure you’re also packaging key information, spokespeople and visual elements to help streamline the interview process for the reporter. Many outlets are restricting studio visits and conducting interviews via video conferencing, so it is important to prepare your spokesperson accordingly.
As a strategic communications partner for our clients, we are at the table providing counsel and communications regarding COVID-19 across a variety of industries. If your organization is in need of any assistance, please don’t hesitate to reach out and connect with our team.