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How NOT to do PR during the #coronavirus crisis

How can PRs continue to work for the brands they represent as the COVID-19 epidemic continues?

People are dealing with bigger problems right now. But if you’re a PR and continuing to work through this pandemic, then your main work-related concerns are probably these: should your clients or your brand keep communicating as this is all going on? If so, what should they be saying? And how should they communicate while remaining sincere and respectful of what’s happening?

Coronavirus and its impact currently dominates the national and trade media. So, for PRs like myself there’s also the issue of whether and how to approach journalists with stories and pitches.

I don’t have all the answers. But the social media streams of various technology and mainstream journalists I follow do provide some clues. And based on this, I’ve come up with the following list of 5 things you should try NOT to do when pitching journalists in the current crisis

  • Blatantly opportunistic coronavirus newsjacking

You’d think most PRs and marketers would realise how crass and insensitive this makes their brands look. But journalists are complaining that PRs are continuing to pitch them with tenuous coronavirus-related angles for their brands’ products or expertise. You’ll know, if your business has genuine knowledge or technology that is relevant to the crisis. If this isn’t the case, don’t risk looking like just another ambulance chaser!

  • Pitching journalists with comments for articles they’ve already written

Imagine this: you see a coronavirus-related article in a publication which is a key target for your company. You know that you could have contributed some extremely revealing/valuable insights to the piece – if you had only known about it in advance. You should resist the temptation to go ahead anyway and pitch the journalist with the information you would have sent (in the vain hope that they will be writing another similar article). If they already published the piece, they won’t be covering the same topic again. You’ll just be clogging their inbox and get labelled a time-waster.

  • Stating the “bleedin’ obvious”

Every crisis triggers hundreds of articles and blog posts from experts proffering advice and best practice tips to help individuals and businesses address the challenges they’re facing.  Some of these advice pieces are packed with genuinely helpful information.  But there’s also a danger of well-meaning brands trotting out obvious and hackneyed platitudes as they struggle to have something relevant to say.  So think long and hard: is the advice you’re pitching for your industry honestly that insightful? Even the likes of IT industry analyst, Gartner, can get this wrong – as the tweet below suggests.

  • Offering your stuff for free – and putting it in a press release 

This is a toughie. Obviously, if you are giving away significant quantities of products or services that are really helping in the effort to tackle the problems created by the crisis, then it could be newsworthy. But if not, there’s a danger you could just end up looking like you’re trying to cash in on some undeserved free publicity!

  • Trying to draw out profound lessons from the crisis

I’ve seen journos complaining on my social feeds that they’re seeing brands serving up weighty or philosophical content describing the long-term lessons or lasting changes that humanity or their industry will take away from the crisis. It’s just too early for that. Again, if you’re tempted to do this, ask yourself if you’re trying too hard to say something relevant.

In all of this, it’s worth remembering that even in the midst of the biggest pandemic the world has experienced in the last 100 years or so, the media is sill covering non-coronavirus related news and features. In a Facebook discussion group I follow for technology journalists and PRs, there are journos who say they would welcome more general non-COVID-19 pitches. On LinkedIn one journo recently posted that he’s getting around 10% of the pitches that he normally gets and advises PRs to get in touch!

Featured image by Juraj Varga from Pixabay