The Coronavirus pandemic is dominating headlines around the world, in a completely unprecedented way. It may be the biggest story of our lifetimes thus far, and the media is covering the story around the clock.
It would be a terrible PR move to ignore what’s going on in the world, and continue pitching our clients, as if things were business as usual. Business is anything but usual right now, and we’re wandering into uncharted territory.
“The world is going through a lot of pain, and blasting out campaigns that are oblivious to that would be insensitive and harmful in the long run. Instead, we watch, listen, and strive to respond with respect and empathy to everyone affected,” offers Corina Leslie, PR Manager for Zero Bounce.
As public relations professionals, it’s imperative for us to adapt our strategy to changes in the outside world.
So, what type of stories does the media want to be pitched in the wake of this crisis? And, how should we be changing our approach?
Unique Solutions to the Crisis
Stories directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic are considered breaking news, and are top priority for reporters and editors right now. Companies and individuals who are finding unique, or creative solutions to the challenges ahead are extremely newsworthy.
Answer the following questions to identify the underlying story at your organization:
What is my business or brand doing to help people during this crisis?
How is my company working to keep its employees and clients safe?
What contributions is my company making in the fight or defense against COVID-19?
Be mindful that the company link to COVID-19 is legitimate and relevant to the public conversation. Attempts to make a grab for headlines by using the corona virus to get attention will be transparent and could cause public backlash.
Jennifer Moxley of Sunshine Media Network warns, “Every client will not have something to pitch right now. Do not make the mistake of forcing your PR team to pitch something because you could end up with a pitch that is tone deaf, or worse, insensitive.”
Industry Thought Leadership
The media and audiences around the world are desperate for people to step up and lead right now. People are afraid and looking for direction from leaders in their industry and in the mainstream.
A great PR person will be able to help their client step into that thought leadership role. Consider the following questions:
How can your company or client provide expertise or leadership to their audience right now?
Could your client be a figure of calmness for an anxious public?
The brand or company does not have to be directly related to the healthcare pandemic to be valuable during this time. Maybe your client can help the vulnerable find food, child care, or work during mass layoffs. Be creative about how you present thought leadership to the media.
To establish thought leadership, provide valuable information and omit blatant self-promotion. According to one study, 79% of online publication editors reported that over-promotion was the top complaint of contributed content.
Relevant Feel Good Pieces
Outside of direct ties to the Coronavirus pandemic, the media will be looking for lighter, feel-good pieces to break up their coverage. Community service and human interest stories are always a great way to break into a journalist’s inbox.
Nathalie Franco of SoloDev explains, “The media wants to hear either hard-hitting COVID19 stories, or positive uplifting stories to break the pattern of darkness. As usual, the media wants the story to be relative to what their audiences enjoy reading or hearing about. If you pitch the media something other than the pandemic or an uplifting story, something cheesy or not on their beat, you WILL hear about it – or see it on Twitter.”
Humor or entertainment is also welcome during dark times as a distraction. For example, is your company offering streaming entertainment for house-bound Americans? If so, find and pitch the right editors for the story.
Circumstances and coverage of this global event are changing so quickly it is difficult for the media to keep up. PR professionals can be an asset during these times by being precise and clear about the value of the message. It will pay off to adapt quickly to the fast pace that events are unfolding.