Navigating Media Relations in the Wake of COVID-19

There’s never been a situation like it – being away from coworkers going on my seventh week, clients readjusting their business and marketing strategies, the public health system undergoing massive transformation by the hour. COVID-19 has changed our lives forever.

Even more so, it’s changed the way our agency is adjusting to what many people are calling, “the new normal,” the work-from-home lifestyle, Google Meets being the way we communicate, and reliance on a project management system to keep us going. I’ve adopted “keep going” as a personal mantra for not only myself, but also for others in my peer group and family and friends network.

It’s especially important to meditate on that mantra when managing media relations for a plethora of clients. The moment you let your fingertips off this COVID-19 pulse, you’re days behind. And in the seven weeks I’ve been stationed on my dining room table (and husband’s office), I consciously remind myself to keep going.

Whether it’s pitching to a new horizon of trade verticals – insurance, speaker bureaus, education and human resources, for example – I’ve added a few skills to my media relations toolbox, including:

  1. Don’t sell your subject matter experts short of the wealth of knowledge they possess. When speaking to clients about the opportunity at hand, ask what the proposed subject matter expert could additionally speak to. For instance, if you know the topic is automotive-focused but needs an insurance-specific question answered, don’t be afraid to push them into a new comfort zone.
  2. Prepare your interviewees with third-party articles and sources. While it’s always a best practice to prepare and brief your interviewee with company-specific information, look at related articles – especially with the wave of COVID-19 rocking all the media’s newsfeeds – that they otherwise wouldn’t source. Be the in-the-know advisor; be a subject matter expert.
  3. Keep the door open with reporters in terms of continuing the conversation. As we all know, news changes by the hour and corporate policies are updated in concert. If those updates are newsworthy, reach back out for a potential follow-up article. Transparency is especially key in this environment.
  4. Protect time for open-ended conversations. Schedule relationship-building and knowledge-sharing calls with both clients and journalists (just not during their heaviest deadline moments) where you do more listening in a less rushed environment. Ask questions about what they are seeing, how they are making decisions, how they are keeping up their creativity or energy levels.

Overall, I’ve been reminded that public relations is as creative a work as any other part of integrated marketing, and it’s exhilarating when you find that right fit that helps a journalist on deadline and a great SME. We’re also all a little more exposed right now, with kids and pets in the background of video calls and/or household noises occasionally interrupting the flow.

It’s been a wild ride but I’m honored to be doing exactly what I am right now. Who knew my dining room table would one day become a control operations center for deadline-infused media outreach?

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