Communicating with a Pandemic Focused Media
I’ve heard a familiar response from journalists since March: “We’re inundated with coronavirus coverage. I’ll try to get to this next week.”
This is not unexpected. Coronavirus will be setting the media’s agenda for the foreseeable future, and newsrooms have been agile in reassigning roles and working remotely from home. My last blog post described how Philadelphia broadcast newsrooms were adapting to the rapidly changing local situation and our collective “new normal.” To dig deeper into how the media industry has been affected by the crisis, we look to Cision’s Global State of the Media Report.
Cision, the communications and PR solutions provider, surveys more than 3,250 journalists globally every year for its State of the Media Report. While the bulk of the data was collected before the coronavirus pandemic, Cision sent follow-up questions to its respondents to gauge how journalists were dealing with the pandemic in their newsrooms. The results reconfirmed two pillars of media pitching – research and proximity.
According to the report, some newsrooms have transitioned entire staffs to COVID-19 and put other stories on hold. It is now even more important for PR pros to research a journalists’ coverage before pitching a story.
In a panel discussion about the report, Anthony Ha, senior writer at Tech Crunch, also emphasized being careful about pitching thought leaders on coronavirus-related topics. He said: “There is a thin line between being helpful and hitching a wagon to this global tragedy.” PR professionals need to evaluate if their clients can provide real value to a journalist’s beat and pitch accordingly.
Proximity, or having a local news angle, is crucial because states, counties, and towns are handling the pandemic differently. Journalists are more interested in local pitches, but those also include positive, creative pitches, with a specific focus on human interest stories that show how people are connecting during this difficult time.
Email remains the preferred method of communication for pitches. One respondent said, “Emails are the least time-consuming option for us. (Brief emails, without elaborate, teaser introductory paragraphs.)” Respondents also told Cision that making sources available for video interviews is especially helpful during this time due to social distancing precautions and stay at home orders in various states. They stressed having patience with reporters is key to relationship building as they are swamped with work and navigating how to report on a pandemic.
It is clear that coronavirus is presenting journalists with unique challenges, however, the pandemic is also exacerbating other pre-coronavirus challenges.
Media Industry Fallout
22% of respondents to Cision’s survey reported that staffing and resources were the biggest challenge for journalism in 2019. In 2020, Poynter has tracked how the economic shutdown has affected newsrooms across the country. Read its running list of furloughs, layoffs, and closures here and find more coverage on Locally, Poynter’s new home for coverage on local journalism.
An analysis of this list shows that local newspapers and broadcast stations are suffering. It is worrisome not only for the economic sustainability of the industry but for the knowledge of the American electorate. The gutting of local newsrooms means less attention paid to local government activities that affect people day-to-day. Fewer reporters will be assigned to cover city halls or local school board meetings across the country, and outlets will publish fewer stories that spotlight how our governments work for the citizens.
It also makes it more difficult to get your business noticed. Even if your business is announcing an impressive new hire or an innovative new product, it may not get covered because the media outlet simply doesn’t have the resources. PR pros outnumber journalists at around a 6:1 ratio. According to the State of the Media Report, 51% of respondents said they get 1-50 pitches per week, 25% reported getting 51-100 per week. 33% of respondents file 1-3 stories per week and 31% file over 10 stories per week.
Business announcements are still newsworthy and worth pitching, but it is important to set client expectations. Outlets can’t and probably won’t interview every new hire or feature every new product or service a business offers in its publication. It is the PR pro’s job to make the best argument as to why it is valuable for the outlet’s audience and get that argument in front of the right person at the outlet. Incorporate other tactics like contributed articles or advertorials into the public relations strategy that may be successful alternatives to earned media in achieving business goals.
In the coronavirus era, media pitching best practices will still work. Extra care to the details – tone, timing, and how the pitch adds value for a journalists’ audience – will increase your chances of coverage while the pandemic continues controlling the headlines.