Media Relations Strategy During Times of National Crisis



, ,

When you planned your 2020 media relations strategy, a lifetime ago, it might have involved a calendar of announcements, crafting press releases on your new products and sending them out to favored journalists. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and we are now experiencing a national crises and an impassioned fight to end systemic racism.

In times of national crisis, journalists’ priorities change. If you want media to cover your news now, you must recognize what constitutes newsworthy content today.

To get your message out, you’ll likely need to scrap your original plans and rethink your message, strategy and approach to media relations. Here are five tips:

Treat journalists with the respect and grace you offer to every other person you interact with during the pandemic. Some of them have been partially furloughed, with kids at home, being asked to cover beats they don’t normally cover. They are struggling to keep up with overflowing inboxes and voicemails. They are just like the rest of us!

We see this continuing for the next year or longer, so relationships are going to matter more than ever. Your PR team will need solid relationships with they key journalists in your space if you hope to get your news to hit their radar.

You must also be overtly helpful to journalists. In our current environment this means the following:

  • Give them data and information about what you know, not just what you sell. Make sure it uncovers a new trend or truly supports an existing one with fact, not hyperbole. You should approach every interaction as a relationship-building exercise. Try to become a long-term source by nurturing that relationship. It will pay off for you and the reporter.
  • Do not delegate media relations to the most junior members of your staff or agency. Today’s climate requires the senior leaders with the deepest understanding and experience with your business. Show journalists the respect they deserve by having your most senior PR pros interact with these professionals.

Pitches that are on-point with current trends, with a well-rounded “roadmap” and resources will shoot to the top. It is your job to provide that comprehensive story, not just a product pitch. Start with a crisp explanation about why your pitch is newsworthy today, and include a mix of resources like stats, b-roll, quotes, case studies, links to third-party reputable sources and images to add context. The journalist might not use all your prep and sources, but it allows them to quickly understand why this news is relevant and worth their time.

Your pitches should be thought leadership forward and fit into an important trend of the moment. Don’t be tone deaf. Only suggest a product or service that ties back to what people are doing right now or what data shows us they are looking to do next.

Your pitches should be thought-leadership forward and fit into an important trend of the moment. Don’t be tone deaf. Only suggest a product or service that ties back to what people are doing right now or what data shows us they are looking to do next.

We found some good success during the pandemic with one of our clients that is a global leader in branded payments, including gift cards.

Consumers needed a socially-distanced gifting option for the busy Spring gifting season (Mother’s Day, graduation, weddings, etc.) so we filmed ready-to-air sound bites with a third-party gift expert and provided a range of other gift options (some related to our client’s products and some not) that were safe and quick to procure. The approach paid off with 31 stories highlighting our client over Mother’s Day weekend​.

If your organization has a point of view on a policy or regulatory issue critical to the pandemic, now could be the time to break through with your message. The editorial board and the op-ed pages are looking for strong opinions pieces that fit with the most pressing issues of the day.

Media relations pros must have a well thought out and well-crafted argument, based in fact and backed up by reputable sources that makes a direct connection to something that can help today.

We work for the Canadian payments industry trade association and we were able to break through with an op-ed to Canada’s daily national newspaper that exposed a problem and provided a solution.

We highlighted that underbanked Canadians were an overlooked and significant community that weren’t getting their government relief payments in the same timely manner as individuals with bank accounts and that there was a simple, ready to deploy solution that government could adopt today to get these people help. It met the test of the editorial board: highlight a hidden and timely problem, offer a solution, back it up with proof.

Now is the time to take a hard look at how well-versed your executives are to be conversational sources or guests on a TV show or podcast. If the answer is no, it is imperative that you media train them immediately or find others in the organization who can speak to fluid issues and provide strong, fact-based commentary.

Now is not the time for robotic talking points or non-answers. It’s also the time to look deeper in your organization for more diverse voices to represent your company.

Media training should not be spin class. It’s not about making your spokesperson slick and evasive. Authentic conversation is what is needed today. Reporters and podcast hosts are looking for genuine guests who know their stuff and propel ideas and discussion. Like anything, that takes good prep and practice.

Our client MetaBank has been able to offer great perspective and insights on the impact the pandemic will have on payments – for both businesses and consumers.

We are seeing a lot of research that shows that consumers are adapting to the circumstances as our foreseeable future and as such, they are coming out of the bunker and making plans.

While many brands may have been pushing messaging of business continuity, safety and security, this is tapering off in newsworthiness. Media want to be forward-looking and they also want to follow what consumer behavior. We secured this story in Business Insider about how fintechs and payment providers are helping businesses stay afloat and pivot to future success after the pandemic.