COVID-19 has brought a lot of change and uncertainty to all industries – PR included. Many thought leaders, healthcare professionals, business executives or authors might be hesitant to pursue media outreach during this time. They may be wondering if there is even a point in trying right now and if you can garner PR in this climate.
The truth is you can still receive valuable PR during this time — there are just strategic ways to go about pitching and crafting a PR strategy that you’ll need to think about.
News and journalism are more important than ever to keep us all informed during this unprecedented crisis. (This is the part of the blog post where I preach about how important it is to financially support the media, especially local media. Pay for your local newspaper! It’s like 50 bucks a year.)
But, as of writing this blog post, most of us have been self-isolating for about eight weeks. During this time our screens have been taken over by COVID-19 headlines. While we should spend a few minutes every day updating ourselves on the latest pandemic news, it’s just as important to move on and consume some different content.
The numbers show that this is happening. According to Poytner, hobbyist publications, such as health, food, and home and garden titles, have seen an abundance of readers and social media engagement during the pandemic.
This trend will be expanding to general news media soon. In a PR News webinar from April 29, Reuters’ digital special project editor Lauren Young spoke with my favorite PR guru Michael Smart. She spoke about anticipating an opening for “fun and light” material coming soon, because everyone – including journalists – needs the distraction and to decompress.
We’ve seen this happening in our own PR campaigns. As many of you may know, we have been working with Chicken Soup for the Soul for 10 years, doing regional and local PR for their new books. Chicken Soup for the Soul had two books come out recently, a Mothers Day title, Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Magic of Moms, as well as Chicken Soup For the Soul: Laughter Is the Best Medicine. The latter was titled long before COVID-19, but the timing of this release ended up being perfect. We’ve garnered stories in various local media publications, like the Redwood Times, The Prince George Citizen, Chico Enterprise-Record and many more. And these articles were pitched, written and published while the reporters and editors, Chicken Soup for the Soul contributing writers, and publicists (aka me) were all self-isolating.
But maybe you do have a message that is related to COVID-19. And you’re interested in sensitively connecting your message to this global pandemic and providing guidance for others in your industry. You’re interested in participating in our favorite PR buzzword: Newsjacking.
Newsjacking, according to David Meerman Scott, is the art and science of injecting your ideas into a breaking news story so you and your ideas get noticed.
So what’s the deal with newsjacking? Can we pitch ourselves around this crisis right now?
Yes, we can. We just have to be extra sensitive.
Every year, media database Cision releases their State of the Media report, and this year, they had a special webinar that focused on COVID-19-related pitching questions.
In the webinar, TechCrunk reporter Anthony Ha encouraged PR people to apply a higher bar for any crisis-related pitches. He said, “There’s a thin line between being helpful and hitching a wagon to this global tragedy.”
There is a way to pitch yourself around COVID-19 and come out not looking like a jerk. In fact, we’ve done it with many Zilker Media clients over the last few weeks:
- In Business Insider, neurosurgeon Dr. Mark McLaughlin discussed ways to give your brain a “spring cleaning” to boost happiness and productivity while social distancing.
- Author and speaker Crystal Chiang talked about helping high school seniors cope with a canceled graduation in Memphis Parent.
- Public adjuster Michael A. Fried wrote for Claims Journal about how claims pros can help business clients proactively mitigate COVID-19 risk.
- Parenting and education author Laura Sandefer discussed how parents can integrate the Socratic method in their homeschooling during COVID-19 social-distancing in BC Parent.
- In CNN Business, productivity expert Maura Thomas discussed how to streamline communication while working from home.
- Bryan St. James, president of Austin-area bank Keystone Bank wrote for the Austin American Statesman and the Lake Travis View around how business can best use PPP loan funds.
- Certified forensic interviewer and ethical persuasion expert Michael Reddington wrote for Chief Learning Officer about how to be an influential leader during stressful times
- Marketing and growth keynote speaker Rob Ristagno shared with Total Retail magazine how online retailers can who innovate during COVID-19.
- Leadership expert and first female F-14 Tomcat fighter pilot Carey Lohrenz was featured in Training Industry around tips for leading your team through adversity.
- Advisor and speaker John Oberg talked about the importance of staying connected to people during crisis in Texas CEO Magazine.
- Internist Ken Zweig shared with KevinMD his opinion on how to cope during COVID-19.
The key to all of these fabulous (if I do say so myself) media hits is that a) the target audience of each media hit is aligned perfectly with the credentials of each expert, and b) each expert is giving information that is truly valuable to that audience.
Maybe you are just completely not ok with pitching yourself around COVID-19. This is a valid decision, and we don’t want to force anyone to add to the discourse if they are uncomfortable.
But if you still want to do some media, especially while you’re stuck in your house with a bunch of free time on your hands, there is a solution: Podcasts.
Most podcasts have a back-log of guests and schedule out and record many months in advance. And podcasters, just like everyone else, are stuck at home right now, so they are continuing to put out content.
Podcasts are what we refer to as micromedia. They may have smaller audiences, but their audiences are super loyal. Also, most podcasts are focused on a niche topic. Even if that topic does intersect with COVID-19, a lot of podcasters are choosing to put out the same content as usual, and discuss topics unrelated to COVID-19.
It will be important to ask the host or producer (or have your publicist ask) when the podcast will come out. That way, If COVID-19 does come up naturally in conversation — and let’s face it, it usually does these days — you can be cognizant of your language. You may want to add phrases like “as we’re recording this…” and “currently…” Try not to make any statements that won’t have a long shelf life, since facts about COVID change day to day.
With podcasts, you can always find your niche, it just might take a little digging. Some podcasts we’ve booked non-COVID related interviewed on lately range from sports and performance psychology podcast High Performance Mindset, to fintech podcast Bank On It, to sales and management podcast The Sales Whisperer, to mental health podcast Cleaning Up the Mental Mess, to parenting podcast Don’t Mom Alone, to wellness podcast Intelligence For Your Life, and many more.
These are unprecedented times, but PR and marketing efforts are continuing. These strategies may just need to be tweaked. If you’re curious about how to position your earned media strategy during this time, do not hesitate to reach out to me!