Media relations in the wake of COVID-19

Media relations in the wake of COVID-19

Hollie Abbott

Hollie Abbott

In these times of uncertainty, where the situation is changing so quickly and we’re constantly receiving new snippets of information, the media has never been more important in keeping everyone informed. There’s no question that the media landscape has changed significantly since the start of the coronavirus outbreak – outlets are providing daily online live feeds, newspapers have stopped physically printing and reporters from all over the world are covering the stories and situations from every angle possible.

Firefly attended a (virtual) media briefing, hosted by 4media, with The Sun’s consumer editor, Dan Jones, to talk about how the newspaper been operating, how coverage has changed and what PRs can do since coronavirus became the centre of attention in the UK. Here’s four things we learnt:

Half and half

At the moment, about half of the coverage in The Sun’s print edition is devoted to coronavirus-related stories whilst the other half dedicated to general news and features. As the biggest story in the world right now, and with it affecting so many people, this comes as no surprise. It’s expected that it will remain the biggest story for a number of weeks due to the vast amount of changes and information that we’re receiving hour by hour. This means that PRs must be strategic about what and how they’re pitching to journalists, for example, only mentioning coronavirus if it’s really relevant and being sure to pitch journalists at the right time – Dan mentioned that PRs should pitch non-coronavirus stories to him as early as possible in the day.

Journalists are stretched…

With journalists under pressures with coronavirus reporting, having to constantly keep up with the ongoing information, it’s more important than ever to have a story that’s ready-to-go. PRs should think about what’s the most interesting part of the story or announcement and make that the first thing the journalist sees or hears depending on how you’re pitching. And that goes for both coronavirus and non-coronavirus related stories.

…but they are people too

People are scared of this news. It’s been described as one of the ‘the greatest and unprecedented challenges of our time’, and the coronavirus hasn’t just affected people’s health, it’s affected every aspect of daily life, with jobs being lost and social places closing down for the foreseeable future. So, it’s natural for people to feel worried, including journalists! When pitching, don’t hesitate to be honest about your story, acknowledging whether it does or doesn’t have a coronavirus angle, and even a small ‘hope you’re doing okay’ at the end of your pitch (even though we know the phrase is normally taboo in PR!) shows that you’re being sincere about the situation. We’re all human at the end of the day!

Positive stories are key

People are quick to read all the negative news about the coronavirus and there are only so many stories you can do around supermarkets being empty and the number of daily cases. Whilst Dan expects the next week to still be busy with coronavirus-related stories, The Sun is choosing to focus on the more positive side of the story and running articles on best practices for things like working from home and exercising. Anything that helps with the NHS, vulnerable and elderly people is also what’s appealing at the moment and we’ve already seen brands like Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Tesco offering special opening hours for these groups. Stories that are humorous and a bit quirky are also more likely to be picked up at the moment, according to Dan.

Despite the dominance of coronavirus in the media at the moment, it’s worth remembering what our role as PRs is and the relationship we have with journalists. We’re currently living through history and as communicators, our role is vital.  As every day brings in new information that we need to digest, let’s remember to keep on doing what we do best whilst being mindful about the circumstances.

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