How to Handle Coronavirus in the Newsroom
The Philadelphia Public Relations Association (PPRA) moved its “Segment Producers: How to Pitch Them, What Content They Want and More” program from a live event to a webinar amid novel coronavirus concerns. The original premise for the event was to hear from producers working in Philadelphia’s major broadcast affiliates and for PR folks to ask what they need from us when we are pitching stories. However, on the evening of March 24, the conversation was largely driven by the coronavirus and the status of the outbreak in the city and its suburbs.
The producers included:
- Jennifer Lewis-Hall, Anchor/Producer of In Focus and Special Programs, Community Affairs Manager, PHL17
- Kathie McDermott, News Producer, NBC 10
- Marjorie Thomas, Class-H Room Producer, FOX 29
They provided the attendees with advice that is important during the coronavirus and crucial insight that should be included in any media relations plan.
All Hands on Deck Approach during Coronavirus
Each of the journalists noted that they are jumping in as needed during the crisis. McDermott, a producer for NBC On Issue, has been assisting with writing, editing and producing daily news during the hiatus of her program. She is also producing the live press conferences from the City of Philadelphia.
Thomas echoed her sentiment. She usually produces Class-H, a weekend trivia show, but during this public health crisis, she has been assigned to the newsroom since they have halted the filming for the show under social distancing guidelines.
Know the Technology
It is helpful if a journalist is comfortable with all the technology to create a broadcast. The more they know during the crisis, the more they can help in a newsroom. As PR practitioners, we can anticipate the media’s needs and prepare our clients with the appropriate technology.
McDermott recommended building a Skype studio in your office or your clients’ offices. Dedicate one computer with a webcam and appropriate backdrop to be the focal point of the studio. Purchase a TV light and clip microphone to make sure your client looks and sounds the best they can in a remote interview.
Lewis-Hall suggested establishing Skype profiles for each spokesperson at your business or clients’ business to cut down on any unnecessary rushing or confusion when it comes time for the interview.
This recommendation can be replicated for any online video chat service such as Zoom, FaceTime, etc.
General Tips for Pitching
- Power of Social Media: McDermott finds half her stories from pitches and half her stories from social media. Align your social media and media relations strategies.
- Timing: Early is always better.
- Develop Relationships: PR practitioners should check in with media contacts regularly and build relationships. Each producer said that they share stories with their colleagues in the newsroom. They want to hear from PR pros and if they trust them, they will share the stories with the right reporter or producer.
Coronavirus is going to set the agenda in every newsroom in the upcoming months, and it is important to consider these takeaways on your next pitch to add value for the journalist and your client.