As COVID-19 continues to unfold right before our eyes, it’s very likely that the world as we once knew it before will never exist. On one side, this pandemic has wreaked havoc on our lives in many ways. But, when we come out of this on the other side, there will be many positive lessons learned that will require a new level of thinking and doing, both personally and professionally.
For communications professionals specifically, COVID-19 will force a fresh mindset needed to navigate the ebbs and flows of what will be a new media landscape. While the industry is among the hardest hit by COVID-19, we’re still very reliant on getting the most up-to-date developments from the media. Even with uncertainty looming within the media industry, there’s no sure sign as to when we’ll stop seeing this pandemic drive headlines and fuel the news agenda.
With this, it’s essential for PR professionals – those viewed as valuable resources to the media – to reconsider standard approaches often practiced well before the pandemic. In this piece, we’ll explore the actions communications professionals must take now to think beyond securing stories for clients and ensure a long-term and strong relationship dynamic with the media.
Rethink Relationship-Building with the Media.
Prior to COVID-19, the art of meeting and building your network felt like another grind (outside of the office) for PR professionals. From media mixers to industry panels, there was no shortage of events to attend, with the ultimate goal to rub shoulders with journalists as well as other industry counterparts and establish long-term working relationships.
Now, in the thick of COVID-19, in-person interaction is a thing of the past and may very well be for a while due to stringent social distancing guidelines in place. Instead, we’re taking our mixers and panels virtually, and interacting remotely, which I believe, will birth a new way of networking for us all even after the pandemic dust settles.
Virtual networking will force PR professionals to be much more personal when it comes to interacting with the media – especially if you’re looking to be a valuable asset to them. As we discovered during our recent virtual PR reimagined webinar, the media is overwhelmed in their roles covering COVID-19, some now covering more beats than they did before. Knowing this, before you hit send on that email pitch, stop and ask yourself, ‘have I reached out to this reporter to gauge what they’re covering right now?’ If the answer is no, you’ll likely need to rethink your approach before pitching them. My advice? Reach out to arrange a virtual coffee catch-up or monthly chat over cocktails. Don’t fear rejection; you’d be surprised of the outcome.
Rethink Pitching to the Media.
Before COVID-19, reports showed that on average, journalists receive 30 or more pitches a day. Now navigating through the pandemic, this number has tripled for many reporters. In fact, at our recent virtual PR Reimagined event, a panelist revealed she’s now receiving at least 100 pitches a day since the onset of COVID-19.
With this in mind, there’s a need for PR professionals to remain thoughtful and intentional when it comes to communicating with journalists, especially during this time. One great way to do this is to consider recommending a 30-minute virtual deskside rather than sending that pitch, particularly if a reporter covers a beat that’s relevant to a multitude of the clients you manage. This approach allows you to the opportunity to share with the media all of your story ideas for every client and get their honest opinion on whether it would be something they’d cover. And don’t get discouraged if they may not see a fit for it in the near-term, as it’s always likely they’ll consider it for future editorial.
Now, this is not to say that email pitching is not effective. If virtual desksides don’t work across the board, reconsider the relevancy, context and punchiness of your pitch. Is it something the media hasn’t written about? Is it considering the future impact of the pitch’s target audience? Is your pitch related to the current times (i.e. COVID-19)? These are all questions to ask yourself before hitting that send button.
As we’ve seen across a lot of industries, most work habits that many were accustomed to before COVID-19 have disappeared, forcing many professionals to rethink behaviors and approaches. This concept reigns just as true for PR professionals navigating a new world of media with many uncertainties. Let’s use this time to reset our thoughts, our behaviors and our actions to put forth more success in media relations than what we were able to achieve before the pandemic.