So much has been written about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the public relations industry, but on a day-to-day basis, how will the lasting impacts of the pandemic change our industry?
PR professionals are now competing with a daily helping of new COVID-19 news, it’s necessary to sharpen skills to get media to focus on other topics. Here are five strategies that will help enable your organization or your clients to improve the quantity and quality of their coverage.
1. Work harder to create personal engagement.
Earlier in my career, media met regularly with clients, even for background meetings that didn’t have a news angle. Personal engagement with media has been eroding for many years and there are several culprits. Technology such as Slack and texting are two. An increase in the number of media that are freelancers is another. The pandemic has added to this since a large majority of media now work from home and creative ideas such as “press kits in a box” sent to editors and producers are no longer possible without having their home addresses.
PR teams need to find new ways to create personal engagement. Tools such as Zoom create new possibilities and PR professionals should consider inviting media to Zoom calls with the offer of showing graphics, infographics and other visuals and making sure to use video to add a personal touch.
2. Managing news cycles is more important.
Like other highly disruptive events such as 9/11, COVID-19 has dramatically impacted news cycles. At the beginning of the pandemic, news cycles were as short as 1-2 days. This forced PR professionals to adjust the timing, tone and content of their announcements to reflect these short cycles.
But unlike one-time events such as 9/11, COVID-19 surges and then recedes, so that PR pros must now continuously adjust their announcement strategy based on the state of the pandemic. Geography-based announcements are especially difficult to time since the status of the pandemic varies by state and even cities within a state.
Kendall Jenner’s ill-conceived birthday party is perhaps the most egregious example of failing to understand this.
3. Acts matter more than words, but must be authentic.
It’s easy for many organizations to make statements about supporting first responders or other groups assisting people who have coronavirus. It’s also pretty easy to write a check.
What is much more difficult is to take action, and for example, deliver meals to first responders as they begin or end their shifts. But, if the organization doesn’t have a history of good acts, PR teams need to position this carefully as a new initiative that will be ongoing or make some other type of longer-term commitment and not just hold a stunt to earn media coverage in a difficult period.
4. Look for opportunities to help media.
Just like communications professionals, editors and producers are working to adjust to whatever the new normal will be. PR pros need to make an extra effort to understand an editor’s or producer’s needs, timetables and pressures. Adjusting your pitching and follow up strategies around this knowledge will both make us more effective professionals as well as help media do their jobs.
5. Identify pandemic best practices.
This is certainly not the last pandemic. Analyze strategies that worked and those that didn’t, and save these for the next time there is an outbreak. This will enable you to immediately move into “pandemic communications mode” when you recognize the possibility of a new pandemic and get a jump on other PR teams to get your news out, position your organization optimally and help media more effectively.
Winston Churchill once said, “Never waste a good crisis.” COVID-19 is a tragedy that no one should take lightly, but it’s an opportunity for PR professionals to hone their skills and take a new look at how they interact with media for their organizations or on behalf of clients.
PR professionals that recognize and take advantage of this opportunity soonest will reap the greatest rewards.
Tim Johnson is president at UPRAISE Marketing. and Public Relations. Connect with him on LinkedIn.