Adapting your PR during the coronavirus pandemic

PR planning

It’s fair to say that 2020 isn’t panning out the way most UK SMEs thought it would. First we had the political uncertainty of Brexit (remember Brexit?) and now we are in the midst of COVID-19, with no firm knowledge on how it will end.

In such unprecedented times, many businesses may be feeling unsure about their external communications. Owners might have pressed pause on their production, had to adapt their output, or could be carrying on as before – and some will be unsure on how to approach the media, if at all. Is it appropriate? Will it be effective? Do the old rules of PR remain?

The short answer to all of the above is yes. With considerations.

Look at your channels

If you have a story at the moment, then look at the media titles that will reach your audience. They may still be pushing forward with industry news – many are, albeit with a slant on current affairs. The media still needs content and it can’t all be about one subject. It depends on the channel: consumer national and local news outlets are more interested in stories that link back to COVID-19 at the moment.

Stick to email

Now is not the time to try calling lots of journalists. Even before they were all decamped to their spare rooms to work, many media professionals were working remotely and preferred email, so that rule still applies. Some journalists will respond well to social media pitches. It’s vital to research your journalists’ preferences as well as their channels’ outputs.

Consider exclusives

Keep it targeted. Remember, some titles may have slowed down a little in light of the whole team working remotely. It may take a little longer for a story to be pitched by a journalist to an editor. Wait a couple of days and then if nothing, try someone else. Following up might be okay once but not twice. If a journalist is interested they will get back to you.

Keep your pitch brief

Your email needs to get to the point and be well written, professional and personal. It doesn’t always need to include a long press release – many journalists will take the pitch itself with the quotes from the supplementary release, or adapt the release anyway.

Make it human

Journalists are looking for a human connection – a real story. This has always been true. Businesses successes are fantastic but the journey that the founder took to get there is the real story – the person behind the brand.

If a story can be pitched around a current trend then all the better – but while a huge story like COVID-19 is understandably the focus for the media, it is also something that everyone is talking about and it is also very sensitive. If you are creating products that will help NHS staff then fantastic – we need more help for our heroes! – but remember, others are too. Try and remain objective: this is admittedly hard to do when it is your business and we are experiencing something so emotive as a pandemic.

These are uncertain times and SMEs may feel self-conscious in approaching the media. But the rules of PR still apply. If you have a good story and the media outlet and its audience is right, it will still be safe to pitch.

By Ruth Wilson.

Ruth Wilson is a freelance PR consultant at Ruth Wilson PR Ltd