With the ongoing government-implemented lockdown, public relations pros are seeking to stay the course through new crisis-related shifts such as working from home within a changing media landscape. bicom connected with long-time collaborators for their insights on the situation and unearthed 5 top media relations tips to abide by – during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
1. Address the elephant in the room
When we’re being bombarded with information from all sides, it’s tempting to ignore the situation and omit it entirely from media communications. After all, as the adage goes: Ignorance is bliss! Think again: it’s imperative to reach out to journalists transparently and understand how the situation has affected them (both personally and professionally) in order to best serve them.
“The publicists who write me personalized e-mails confirming they’re working remotely and asking how they can support my work are so sweet. Those notes are much more meaningful and thoughtful than a regular follow-up email,” shares Joanie Pietracupa, Editor-in-Chief at VÉRO, ELLE Quebec and Edition Papier under KO Media.
Théo Dupuis-Carbonneau, Beauty Director at ELLE Quebec, echoes this sentiment: “For both publicists and journalists, it’s important to be lenient and understanding with deadlines: many are managing work/family balance, anxiety, etc. Let’s be human and support each other!”
Another important takeaway? Pay attention to shipping logistics now that people are working from home and don’t have an office mail room support staff. Confirm a journalist’s interest in receiving a package or product first; sometimes, they can do without, and would rather receive information digitally.
2. Authenticity always
For Jessica Dostie, a freelance journalist, the crisis has affected her entire content schedule. “Almost all my stories in the works are COVID-19 related. There’s very little space right now for lifestyle features. Many people also find themselves in a financially precarious position, so it’s a delicate time to push consumers towards non-essential brands or products; it’s more appropriate, overall, to focus on community initiatives. We need to write and read stories that bring people together.”
But be careful! Don’t force a link between COVID-19 and a brand/product. It’s ultimately a self-serving tactic and will not reflect well on the brand. When in doubt, validate your intuition with a colleague. If a client is putting the pressure on product promotion, it’s your responsibility to advise them appropriately.
Another important angle to consider is that economic instability motivates consumers to shop and support local. We’re so proud to represent awesome homegrown brands like Lotus Aroma and Sapsucker.
3. Back to basics
Deskside meeting cancelled? Event on pause? Great things can come from stripping back to media relations basics like thoughtfully written e-mails or warm calls. Don’t hesitate to pick up the phone like it’s 1995!
“As ever, we’re all in the collective process of figuring things out. This might be a great time to connect one-on-one, ask each other questions, trade stories and share intel. I’ve had some wonderful story ideas come from something I usually avoid in the PR world—the phoner,” explains Liz Guber, Style Editor at The Kit.
In addition to thinking about changes to the outlet or story, think about changes to the industry on a whole. For example, travel writers are still writing but switching gears – rather than stories on hot destinations, focus has pivoted to tourism that can be experienced from home (through digital tools like augmented reality, for example).
Times like these foster genuine collaborations. Many of us were initially drawn to the field because we identified as being as a “people person”. Media, PR pros, and brands are navigating these unchartered waters together, so keeping open communication is not only necessary, but also helps strengthen your personal relationships.
4. Put your best foot forward
No matter the circumstances, people have interests. Skincare aficionados are still interested in reading about new products now that they’re working from home. Based on Internet searches, Spring fashion is popular as ever – even if our daily #OOTDs are looking a little different (check out this great series of WFH ‘fits on the kit ). At the heart of it all, recognize that the work you’re doing is important!
Just because everything is slower, however, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be staying on top of opportunities, says Nadia Pizzimenti, Stylist and Contributing Fashion Editor at Globe and Mail Style Advisor. “It’s no secret our industry works on extremely fast-paced, last minute timelines/deadlines. Our jobs are often quite last minute, but sometimes you don’t think of a brand until closer to the shoot date. So, it’s always appreciated when a PR person responds same day, even if it’s to let me know they received my request and will follow up later. This is not only appreciated for the initial request but also on following up with pricing and credit info.”
At the end of the day, regardless of the news cycle and circumstances, make sure you’re producing polished work that you’re proud of.
5. Be human
The bicom team participated in a Cision webinar last week that emphasized the importance of human-to-human connection. While that certainly rings true for our relationships with journalists, it’s also applicable to media’s relationships with brands’ spokespeople and experts.
If it isn’t the right time to be pitching a new product launch or brand, consider tapping your clients for their expertise. Perhaps your skincare client’s resident dermatologist can advise on keeping hands healthy despite rigorous washing, or your beverage client can give tips on staying hydrated to keep up immunity. Not only is this an opportunity to contribute to the global conversation around health and wellness, but it’s a valuable way to educate company executives on interacting with media.
While the pandemic brings on changes and challenges, it’ll also foster growth and help PR pros improve their processes and make the industry more transparent and collaborative than before. Committing to working with honesty, authenticity, flexibility, collaboration, and polish will serve your clients and relationships during this extraordinary time and pave the way for fruitful collaborations to come.