Media relations in a pandemic

Media relations in a pandemic

COVID-19 continues to dominate the news cycle (for very good reason). Organizations that relied on news media as a primary communications channel are now worried about reaching external audiences through media relations.

Right now, the news cycle is focused on how our community is coping with social distancing, “safer at home” orders, furloughs and layoffs, and the start of a recession. And news outlets are telling the stories of the people and organizations who are helping our community while we’re in crisis.

Some leaders are pausing media relations efforts to avoid being seen as capitalizing on a pandemic. That may be the right choice for some organizations, but for many, there’s still an important story to tell through media relations.

Some examples of companies and organizations with stories that fit in the current news cycle:

- Valley Bank working with small businesses to apply for SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program;

- St. Petersburg Free Clinic moving its food pantry outside to adhere to safety guidelines and serve many more families;

- SPCA Tampa Bay continuing to offer adoptions, as pets help with the feelings around social isolation.

If your organization’s work fits within the news cycle, it’s important to let people know what your organization is doing to help our community through media relations. Look for ways to tell the story behind the numbers, or to profile the “helpers,” people taking bold action to help others.

When building your news story, it’s important to know that news stations have adjusted their processes to comply with social distancing.

For television news:

- Outdoors only: Several local news stations are requiring all interviews to be completed outside. Be creative in finding outdoor settings that are visually interesting and carry forward brand attributes.

- 6-foot rule: Interviews are now done at a distance. Previously, a reporter would often stand by the interviewee’s side. Now, only one person is in the frame at a time. Spokespeople be able to carry a conversation while looking straight at the camera.

- Virtual interviews: More stations are opting for virtual interviews through Skype and similar platforms. Get comfortable using the most common platforms to avoid last-minute technology stress. And find a place in your home that has an appealing backdrop, good lighting and insulation from household noise.

For print and digital outlets:

- Visual opportunities: Show how your organization is helping, like the manufacturing process behind making hand sanitizer.

- Magazines: Long-lead publications, like magazines, that are planning their late summer/early fall issues now, and many are looking for ideas and content.

- Community papers: Some community papers, like Green Bench Monthly in St. Petersburg, are pausing their publication. Others, like Florida Sentinel-Bulletin in Tampa, are reducing the publication schedule during the crisis. Be aware of each outlet’s status as you pitch stories.

Media training and continuous coaching is key in completing successful interviews in a pandemic. Training and coaching prepare spokespeople to powerfully communicate key messages while giving them confidence in handling uncommon interview settings.

COVID-19 continues to be an evolving situation. The right public relations counsel can help your business get through it with your reputation and brand awareness intact.