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WHY YOU SHOULD CONTINUE WITH MEDIA RELATIONS DURING COVID-19

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Beth Reynolds

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With the COVID-19 crisis worsening across the UK every day, marketers are faced with a unique and unprecedented challenge when it comes to promoting their brand and communicating with their customers. We are living through uncertain times and all PR and marketing professionals need to take stock and re-evaluate any plans that had been made before the outbreak of coronavirus. After all, the world is a very different place just now.

However, this doesn’t mean that all media relations activity should stop. In fact, quite the contrary. Over the past few weeks, we have been in constant conversation with our key press contacts and have found, across the board, that journalists are still looking for content. Whilst coronavirus will continue to dominate the headlines, they cannot fill an entire paper with virus-related stories. What’s more, this appetite for other types of content is only likely to grow as time goes on; the media knows that there is only so much COVID-19 content that their audience can tolerate.

We have found that, for many publications, particularly trade media and more niche titles, it is business as usual to a large extent. Coronavirus may not link specifically to their industry, or they are working on print issues that won’t be published for several months when the threat of coronavirus is likely to have died down slightly.

What’s more, the British public is consuming more media than ever before. As you would expect during a crisis like this, audience figures for TV and radio are at record highs, as are newspaper sales. This means that the potential audience for your own messages is huge.

So, how should you approach your communications strategy during these uncertain and unprecedented times?

APPROACHING media relations during covid 19

Content is Key

Whilst there remains room in print and online media platforms for non-coronavirus related content, it is limited. So, it is more important than ever that your news story is strong, interesting and timely in order to stand out from the crowd.

Journalists are just as busy but now are likely to be spending a large percentage of their day responding to the constantly developing COVID-19 situation. As a result, they have less time to research additional stories and are more reliant on pitches from brands and PRs. To succeed, your story has to be fully formed and ‘ready to go’.

It’s also important to consider the type of story that journalists are looking for in the current climate. Our conversations have found that good news, funny and light-hearted stories are in high demand across all media platforms. Journalists know that their audience is unlikely to want to engage with anything too heavy after wading through the coronavirus headlines.

What’s more, brands shouldn’t be tempted to shoehorn their story into coronavirus if it is not inherently linked. We know that journalists are actively looking for non-COVID stories so if yours is unrelated, play this to your advantage.

That’s not to say that those with a coronavirus-related story should shy away from this. Afterall, COVID is likely to remain at the top of the media agenda for some time. It will, however, need to be strong, different and interesting in order to cut through the noise and grab a journalist’s attention.

Don’t Capitalize on the Situation

Consumers are savvy and will be quick to pick up on any initiatives that are not genuine or could be perceived to be capitalising on the situation. We have already seen a number of brands fall foul of this in recent weeks. For example, Louis Vuitton received criticism for its move to manufacture hand sanitizer from its perfume factories, with some people suggesting that this was simply a brand-building exercise as opposed to a genuine effort to help.

Similarly, we have heard feedback that suggests that consumers are growing tired of the constant barrage of emails from brands regarding their COVID-19 policy or advice on how to be productive at home. Whilst data suggests that consumers are interested in how brands are exercising their responsibility as an employer and to the wider community, as well as to their customers, as a constant stream of communication can result in information overload, forcing consumers to feel overwhelmed and switch off from your messaging completely.

Bide Your Time

Now, more than ever, timing is crucial, and a badly timed campaign can have a detrimental effect on its chances of success.

If you are planning on launching a campaign in the coming days, weeks or months, it is important to take a temperature check of public and media opinion regularly. Look at social media and the news outlets that you would be targeting; how are consumers feeling? What are they talking about? What are they engaging with online? It is important to gain a deep understanding of all this and then react accordingly.

If logic is telling you that the timing is not right, then don’t push the story. Whilst there is an appetite for content that is not coronavirus related, there is less space to fill, meaning the competition for column inches is tougher than ever. The world is a different place at the moment, and it is important to recognise that some topics do not lend themselves well to our temporary ‘normal’ – for example stories about school, travel or out of home entertainment. If this is the case, it is far better to reschedule the campaign, or come up with a new, more relevant angle, than trying to force an idea that isn’t likely to resonate in the current climate.

Conclusion – Looking Ahead

Whilst it may feel like normality is still a long way away, data shows that consumers are already looking forward to getting back to normal and suggests that they will be quick to begin spending and engaging with the brands that they valued previously. This is a trend that has already been identified across other parts of the world that are further ahead in the virus curve than the UK and are beginning to come out the other side.

Whilst many businesses will be feeling the strain over the coming months, and difficult decisions will inevitably have to be made, it is important for brands to recognise that good communications is not just a ‘nice to have’ during difficult times like these but is essential for the longevity of a business. It is the brands that work hard to maintain their share of voice and react sensitively and intelligently to the current situation, whilst staying connected with their audience in a way that resonates with them, that will come out the other side fighting and thriving.

If you’d like to discuss your communications strategy during the COVID-19 strategy and beyond, please do get in touch.

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