How to Interact with Media During a Pandemic

For years, pitching media has followed a relatively simple formula. For best results, it should always be customized to the writer, well researched, well written and well timed. In its most basic form, these are the best practices agencies to follow to ensure their clients receive great coverage.

But what happens in the middle of a global crisis? Do we still continue to pitch and rely on best practices? When is a pitch insensitive? When do we need to tell clients that we cannot pitch right now?

Before COVID-19, the media landscape was relatively predictable, the formula straight forward. Crises came and went, and the news cycle returned to normalcy after a few days. But COVID-19 has changed everything and has made us think long and hard about the appropriateness of sending media pitches out when the world is in such turmoil. 

Still, clients expect their stories to make the news and frankly, the world likely needs a little levity to the doomsday media reporting. So, where does that leave us?

We have to adapt. 

Because agencies and professionals are all adapting to these scary and unprecedented times (the official catchphrase of coronavirus), we’ve compiled our list of best practices for how to navigate these times and develop stronger relationships with media contacts, all while earning quality coverage for clients.

Align as an agency 

Before your PR Professionals start typing those pitch emails, we must ensure that we are all on the same page with how communications and business priorities have shifted as a result of the pandemic. This alignment needs to happen internally and then externally with clients. In the early stages of the pandemic, Blue Door put all clients on hold until we could develop the right strategy for how our services would help them during the pandemic. In many cases, media pitching was removed and our efforts refocused.

Read the room

If you are going to pitch, read the room. The only thing worse than a bad pitch is one that comes at the most inappropriate of times. In the first days of a crisis, pitching outlets on anything can come off as insensitive.  Perhaps the most important rule to remember, is that while in regular times these types of pitches may be warmly received, during a crisis writers are fully focused on the current events unfolding before them, each competing to ensure their viewers and readers get the information they truly need.

If you’re not able to contribute to the conversation, the best thing you can do is shift focus until a time media may want to hear about the top 20 products for summer ready legs. If you can’t contribute, sit back and practice patience. That pitch can likely be altered for a later date.

Become a resource

In a crisis, the tables sometimes turn. The same media who you pitched last month on sustainable flatware may now need you to give them an update on the latest COVID case or what an organization is doing to stop the spread inside its stores. 

As the Agency of Record for Longo’s, we are in this situation right now and we prioritize getting back to all writers with timely and accurate information or interviews on developments inside the stores. We focus on being accurate, responsive and staying one step ahead by proactively reaching out if we have details we think they might need.

These are trying times, and the media are being pulled in different directions at all times. The easier you can make their story come together, the more likely they are to come back to you in the future.

Respond in a timely manner

Even if you don't have the answers right away, let the media know you have received their request and are working to get them their answer. A quick “I’ve received your email and am working on a response from the appropriate spokesperson” goes a long way to building trust, maintaining relationships. It’s also just courteous especially if they are on deadline.

Know when correction is needed

Journalists are facing tight and often competing deadlines That means that sometimes, despite everyone’s best efforts, they don’t always get every detail correct.

Know when a correction is truly needed and know when to let things slide.  It will come down to a judgement call but put simply, only ask a journalist to run a correction if they've made a factual error.  Perhaps most importantly, mind your manners.  Remember that our profession depends on building relationships with reporters and outlets. Demanding corrections could set back a relationship and do more long-term harm

Think before you send 

The key is to really take time to strategize and think before sending those pitches. Is this story important and relevant, at this very moment? If the answer is no, provide strategic direction to your client that now is simply not the right time to seek media coverage.  From there, pay close attention to signs when it will be ok to begin approaching the media with non-COVID material.

Recognize it is a time to strengthen our skills 

When things subside, we should not dig back into our toolbox of seasonal pitches. Let’s reinvent what we pitch, how we pitch and how we build relationships with writers and media outlets. Now is the time to make our communication stronger and our research into WHO we are pitching flawless. 

And finally, stay strong. Working from home and fluctuating workflows means there is more opportunity now for research and development into media relations. Take some time each day to see what people are reading about, follow your favourite writers on twitter. And reach out, as a friend, to see how they’re doing without an ulterior motive. It will be appreciated.