PR Training

Being Smart and Strategic When Navigating the Current News Cycle

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is dominating the news cycle in unprecedented ways.

At MediaSource, we’ve been speaking with our key media contacts to keep a pulse on what’s happening in newsrooms, and speaking regularly with our partners in journalism.

Within today’s new dynamic, communications professionals have to be more strategic than ever. To help your team, we’re sharing our approach, which is based on experience and feedback from our long-term media relationships.

Whether you’re a health-care organization wondering about messaging or a brand trying to find a home for an unrelated story during this time, here are some tips for PR pros to successfully navigate this current news cycle:

Know that this isn’t pitching as usual.

Coronavirus conversations are omnipresent, meaning communicators can’t operate as if their work is businesses as usual. In our recent conversations with journalists, it is clear that pitching stories as you may have done in the past is not an effective tactic during this news cycle.

It’s an unfortunate reality that news space and journalist bandwidth are both limited resources, and organizations will always prioritize stories that resonate with their audiences. At the moment, with interest and resources all pointed squarely toward the coronavirus outbreak, unrelated feature stories are not resonating well with the media.

Rather than continuing to pitch as normal, reach out to your usual contacts to see if now is a good time to pitch that story you’ve been considering or if you should change your approach.

In addition, journalists who are not assigned to coronavirus-related stories often have limited resources and value multimedia and PR support. For example, a producer recently told us that they’re specifically looking for medical stories unrelated to the virus this week, and we’ve found that strong, timely pieces with a news hook can still find a home.

Monitor the media environment.

Media interest in this story will continue until the public health crisis abates. When H1N1 was a major storyline in 2009, coverage of the issue spiked for several months before finally tapering off, which means that you’ll need to be prepared for the long haul and keep in touch with your sources.

We’ve been talking to our key media contacts to find out where things stand, how they’re feeling and what’s in store. Here’s a sampling of what we’ve heard:

  • One radio network producer told us that they are open to “anything they can get their hands on” related to COVID-19. Another said coronavirus stories are all she is working on.
  • The news director at a major regional outlet told us that their phones are constantly ringing with viewers asking questions about the latest news and how to protect themselves against COVID-19.
  • A network television feed producer said that between the nonstop coronavirus stories and the presidential primary elections, “our resources have become even more scarce.”
  • The medical producer at a local TV affiliate mentioned that COVID-19 “rules life right now.”
  • A senior health editor at a major magazine said their newsroom is “Coronavirus 24/7” and that they’re approaching the virus from several different angles with “all hands on deck.”

It’s a challenging time to be a communicator, but that doesn’t mean that your work grinds to a halt. Remember to keep your messaging useful, newsworthy and strategic.

Lisa Arledge Powell is president of MediaSource, an award-winning communications agency that specializes in video production, public relations, social media and strategic insights, constantly securing national exposure for major brands. Connect with Lisa on Twitter: @LisaArledge

Photo credit: alhovik

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Lisa Arledge Powell

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