Pitching into a Pandemic: Ask Yourself This One Question
June 10, 2020
Getting a brand message into a crowded marketplace and in front of your key constituencies is always a challenge. Doing so during a pandemic is even harder – and riskier. We sat down with G&S Vice President and healthcare expert Kathleen Reynolds to discuss how to navigate today’s tough news cycle.
We’re actively counseling our clients that It’s Not About You Right Now. How are brands navigating the sensitivities, concerns and polarizing perspectives related to COVID-19 – all while trying to execute their communications strategies?
This crisis underscores a question we must always ask as communicators: who benefits from this? For instance, we began working with The American Society for Clinical Pathology in March. And like any client, the team had communications goals, including underscoring their value across the field of lab medicine to their members and communicating the value of the pathology and medical laboratory profession to the public at large. We initially expected potential challenges aligning these goals to a newsworthy “hook.” But for better or for worse, I can now tell you what will make anyone really care about pathology and laboratory medicine: a pandemic.
ASCP approached the situation just right. As we began media outreach, it wasn’t focused on corporate messaging or ASCP’s history. It was about positioning its members as timely resources who could share their expertise, getting the (largely missing, yet critically needed) voice of the pathologist and lab professional out there to talk about the state of COVID-19 and the necessary next steps. Who better to hear from than those leading the testing efforts? We began to land stories focused on these issues and professionals, like False Negatives in COVID-19 Tests or What Is an Antibody Test?
If you’re crafting a strategy or refining a brand pitch, you must have a good answer to that question: who benefits from this? And if your brand or client is the only beneficiary, do not pass go or collect $200 - go back to the drawing board to unearth information that is more newsworthy, relevant and useful. If you have a message, or a service or a point of view that has true value for others, like the ASCP did, proceed. And once you know who the true beneficiaries are for your message, you can figure out how to reach them.
Let’s say you pass the litmus test and your message has external appeal. What’s next?
If your point of view is worth sharing, you need to map your various audiences and the actions you want them to take. One of the most crucial conduits for ASCP is reporters who we hoped would cover the news, because they share vital information with both lab professionals and the general public. And if you’re even thinking about reaching out to a reporter right now, it’s important to refrain from sending anyone a five-paragraph litany. Bring your informed point of view to the table and frame your short pitch based on what you know they’re covering and what they’re looking for – and if you don’t know, take the time to find out.
It wasn’t about writing “the perfect pitch.” We had to think of the reporters like we think of clients and service them accordingly.
We asked ourselves, how can we help them do their jobs? In our case, we knew many journalists were following legislation related to COVID-19 and trying to piece together what the new laws meant. We pointed them toward pathologists and lab professionals who could comment on how these laws should be enacted. We were concise when we confirmed what sources they needed and what angles they were pursuing. In some cases, we listened and then shed light on new topics on which our client had educated us, like the blood donation shortage during the pandemic.
We made good on our media relationships by then working with the client and its leading pathology and lab professional members to respond to deadline requests for interviews, supply timely bylined content, answer reporters’ follow-up questions and distilling complex scientific terms into phrases that reporters and the public could grasp. And we made sure to thank them, too. Being a reporter isn’t easy, especially now.
How do you know you’re achieving success?
We were fortunate that we had expert client resources imparting timely information. What they were sharing was truly beneficial to a wide range of audiences, so we received dozens of interview requests in the first week or two based on our first round of outreach. Top-tier reporters were instantly responding and coming back to us – always a good pulse on whether your message resonates. We kept a robust dashboard of all media relations inquiries and results so our clients could track them with us.
It’s important to make your work easy to manage and measure. And the best measurement data doesn’t just report back on progress; it shapes future strategy. We knew we’d landed several nice stories, so we thought about to optimize them. It’s silly to expect one singular story to be a silver-bullet to all your audiences. How do we employ a “Create Once, Publish Often” mentality to repurpose and retarget information to reach our client’s business goals?
If your brand has a great “hit,” brainstorm ways it could fuel social content; use it to populate your newsletter; run a digital campaign to get the right eyes on the prize. And don’t forget merchandising it through “old school” internal communications – scheduling a meeting with stakeholders to ensure they’re all aware of the campaign, your results and your next priorities. We’ve all probably executed great work without this step, marching along with the blessing of the direct communications contact, only to have the program halted when you learn another key executive was never informed or fully on-board.
How do you create a measurement framework that tallies progress and informs ongoing work?
To make your measurement meaningful, you have to tie it back to the client’s business goals – and these are not limited to just their communications goals. Measure holistically across qualitative and quantitative metrics because success goes beyond the number of stories and audience impressions generated. Those are helpful, real-time yardsticks, for sure! But with ASCP, for instance, the client was far more impressed when the latest legislation included many of the tenets their leaders had recommended.
That brought it full-circle for us as communicators. We saw how our work to increase awareness around pathology and what lab professionals need translated to federal dollars and support backing their recommendations. In this case, we had a strong answer to the question of who would benefit from hearing this point of view. We knew from the outset that ASCP was acting as a true public health steward, and we were – and are – honored to support them in their endeavor.