How to Approach Media Relations Strategy in a COVID-19 World
March 27, 2020
When counseling my professional services clients on earned media tactics during “normal” times, I often reinforce a “two out of three” rule to determine media worthiness. It helps to consider that, for any media relations effort in the B2B space to achieve success, the pitch or announcement at hand must have at least two of the following characteristics:
Timely topic: Does it take an angle that the media is actively covering?
Truly unique point of view (POV): Are you offering some fresh insight that is not already broadly present in the marketplace?
New data / stats: Are you providing the media with new data that will help their coverage and position you as a trusted resource?
This is one best practice that informs our strategy in normal times. Today, however, we are clearly operating in abnormal times – in which the one and only timely topic seems to be COVID-19 and its impact around the globe. So what does that mean for media relations strategy?
Before embarking on any earned media efforts, communications professionals today must first answer a new question: Does it relate to COVID-19?
Non-COVID-19 Announcements: Hold for Now
If your planned announcement lacks a COVID-19 connection, the effort should most likely be put on hold for the moment. This is not the time to launch a new executive visibility campaign or start pitching an international media tour. When organizations around the world are reorganizing their workforces, reshuffling their operations and, in many cases, reconfiguring their manufacturing plants to help the country and the world manage an unprecedented crisis, brand-amplifying communications may not only be lost amid the media noise – they may also portray your company as tone-deaf.
A few exceptions related to product announcements or executive moves in specific industries may exist. But these announcements should only be made if relevant trade publications are currently still covering this type of news. And expectations for results should be managed with internal stakeholders. If you’re unclear on what your industry’s key reporters need in terms of content right now, a simple check-in email to ask what they’re looking for to supplement today’s news can inform whether opportunities to explore other topics still exist.
COVID-19-Related Announcements: Handle with Care
If your news announcement does relate to COVID-19, it’s still wise to proceed with caution. Take a moment and pause to ensure that you can provide unique insights or new data to help journalists cover this story. Brands should also consider the following before engaging in any COVID-19-related media relations efforts:
Does your company have an external communications policy in place related to COVID-19? If you haven’t already created one, do it now. This will ensure that everyone on your team is on the same page regarding which types of media opportunities to pursue and which may be off the table due to potential sensitivities.
Is your angle self-serving, or does it add real value to the current dialogue? It’s critical to approach any COVID-19 outreach with tact and responsible media ethics. Instead of taking this as an opportunity to promote products and services or even potentially feed into fear-mongering, strive to be among the companies working to address the crisis with an emphasis on how to help businesses and society at large as we collectively weather the storm.
Are your spokespeople prepared to navigate this topic? It’s essential to utilize your most seasoned experts for media interviews right now. Maybe the pitch is about how your company will be manufacturing ventilators, but that doesn’t mean a reporter won’t ask what policies are in place in your factory to keep employees safe and following social distancing. Make sure your spokespeople are prepared for potentially difficult questions about the impact of the pandemic on your business. It may also be a good time to conduct refresher sessions in media training ahead of interviews and provide talking points as needed.
Remember this, too: Journalists are on the front lines of keeping the public informed during this crisis. Even more often than usual, they are likely to be pulled away to cover other stories at a moment’s notice. The communications team and the spokespeople handling interviews must be flexible and willing to reschedule to accommodate reporters.
This isn’t the first time one story or topic has completely consumed the news cycle, but for most of us, it’s the first time the story has no clear end in sight. On top of that, the pandemic exerts a heavy personal impact on nearly every one of us. In addition to carefully pivoting your media relations strategy, bringing empathy to the table – with media, with coworkers, and with your clients – will go a long way to smoothing tensions during a challenging time.