By Laura Merritt, AOE Special Projects Manager
As we head into summer, COVID-19 continues to impact our daily lives. Businesses and communities are learning to adapt to the “new normal.” But even as we collectively rise to the challenges the pandemic has wrought, our new normal continues to evolve. We have entered a new phase in the COVID-19 narrative.
As more states ease restrictions, people are venturing out of their homes and businesses are opening their doors again. Yet the reopening of our society comes with changes in our behavior and expectations, and a new set of challenges. We yearn to attend events, recreate, reconnect with friends and family and support local businesses—and we want to do it all safely. We are doing things we likely never imagined like keeping socially distant and wearing masks in public. Businesses are restructuring everything from their floorplans to their interactions with customers. Like the rest of us, journalists are also adjusting how they do their jobs in this new normal—all while fulfilling their commitment to keep us informed.
Last month, we shared key points from Cision’s 2020 report on the state of the media. This report offers valuable tips to communications professionals looking to better understand the current media landscape and how to adapt PR strategies accordingly. As we enter this new phase of reopening, Lisa Arledge Powell, President of MediaSource, has provided insights into the recent shift in the media landscape and how to get your message heard in the webinar, “The New COVID-19 Approach to Media Relations,” hosted by Agility PR.
Journalists’ new normal
Not surprisingly, public consumption of media has increased significantly over the past few months with COVID-19 continuing to dominate the rapidly moving news cycle. At the same time, media outlets are furloughing staff and increasing workloads. In addition, journalists are required to adapt to new ways to do their job including how they communicate with resources, peers and PR professionals. Video conferencing and virtual interviews, for example, have become the norm and are likely to remain beyond the pandemic. In addition, with social distancing and additional safety precautions serving as standard practices, reporters are less likely to go into the field and, when they do, may not be comfortable going inside a location.
A shift in focus
Coronavirus stories that resonate with media right now include those focused on reopening and the resulting new normal, new ways to treat the virus and economic recovery. Media are also shining the light on lives lost and everyday heroes through stories that are more reflective than just a few months ago.
Not only are media more likely to overlook non-pandemic story ideas, even Coronavirus-related content has its challenges. Journalists generally avoid COVID-19 topics that offer no innovative or unique solutions, no distinctive point of view or have been broadly covered like PPE and telehealth.
Getting your message heard
So how do communications professionals effectively connect with journalists and get their message heard? We begin by looking at our existing relationships with members of the media. While relationship-building has always been important, it is even more meaningful today. During this pandemic, we are all feeling anxious and stressed as we face uncertainties. Journalists are no different. Demonstrating empathy, respect and patience toward our media friends during these challenging times can increase the likelihood that you will be heard and will help you develop and strengthen lasting relationships.
Here are some ways to effectively connect and succeed in securing placements:
- Research your media contacts to ensure they have not been reassigned or furloughed. If they are no longer covering your subject matter, find out who is.
- Be sure your communication includes multiple ways to contact you including your cell phone number, especially if you are currently working from home.
- Because the news cycle is moving rapidly right now, be ready to provide an interview the same day and possibly as quickly as within an hour.
- When arranging a virtual interview, ask the reporter which video communications technology (Zoom, FaceTime or Skype, etc.) he or she uses and make sure your spokesperson has access to and knows how to use it.
- If the reporter wants an in-person interview, identify both indoor and outdoor locations in case the reporter does not want to go inside.
- Be a helper—provide relevant and timely images instead of relying on old stock photos.
To pitch or not to pitch
Communicating with media about your brand may seem like a lost cause unless there is a direct tie to the pandemic—but it can be done. Do you have a story to tell that is relevant to the current situation? Sharing how the business is operating, meeting reopening challenges, employing safety protocols, reopening and supporting the community help make your message relevant, timely and informative.
There are situations, however, where your message cannot (or should not) be connected to the pandemic. It may be a product launch or a business announcement, for example. In these cases, it is important to consider timing and tone. Is it a time-sensitive announcement or can you sit on it for a few weeks? If it cannot wait, consider providing a heads up to reporters (embargoed if needed) before the planned announcement to help reduce the chance your announcement gets overlooked.
Next, determine the general tone of the message. Your brand could come across as insensitive or out-of-touch if it is not carefully worded. Even a positive story tied to the Coronavirus needs a respectful and reflective tone. The tragedies of the pandemic are very real to journalists and should be acknowledged.
Also, do not forget the power of social and owned media. Both provide platforms for sharing your message and, if done properly, can be very effective. Timing and tone are particularly important to consider when evaluating what to post and when. Scheduled social media posts should be reviewed and revised or rescheduled if appropriate.
For the long haul
One of the challenges for PR professionals, made more relevant in these trying times, is the need to act short-term while thinking long-term. Our focus right now should be on creating a strategic roadmap—one that includes preparations and sets appropriate expectations for a possible second wave of the Coronavirus. This plan should include media coverage analyses (before and during the pandemic) for the business, competitors and other companies to underscore the challenges of securing coverage for announcements unrelated to COVID-19. Communications professionals should continuously evaluate the changes in the landscape and be ready to pivot and adapt their roadmaps accordingly.