While the phrase “in these uncertain times” is probably starting to wear thin with repetition, there is no denying COVID-19 is taking companies and communication leaders on a new and confusing journey. The ever-evolving nature of the media is no stranger to change, but brands, PR professionals and journalists alike need to be equipped with the right tools to navigate the rapidly shifting media landscape and effectively tell their stories.

Cision’s 2020 State of the Media report surveyed 3,200 media members, influencers and bloggers worldwide to better understand how to conduct successful media relations during a crisis. Here are four takeaways from Cision’s webinar to keep top of mind:

  1. Build up existing relationships: Reporters are being inundated with COVID-19-related news all day long – absorbing the negativity and anxiety tethered to it. With familiar reporters, spend a little extra time to check in – without tying in a story recommendation – to cultivate a stronger personal connection in a genuine, compassionate way. Present yourself first as a human being vs. a vehicle for the product or announcement you are pitching. Odds are, when you have news you want the reporter to cover down the road, they are going to be more receptive to what you have to share.
  2. Research and customize: Blanket pitches are not going to cut it in today’s world of competing sources and brands vying for just a few precious seconds of attention. Understand reporters’ beats, interests and their role at the publication. Reporters are not synonymous with the outlets they write for, so do not make the mistake of conflating the two; uncover how the individual's unique coverage colors the outlet as a whole and tailor your pitch to that viewpoint. Muck Rack and Cision both have helpful database tools to dig into past coverage and reporters’ social channels too. This adds time to your pitch efforts, but the increased story win rates make it worth it.
  3. Communicate credibility with data and experts: Put some fire under your news by integrating statistics and facts into your pitch, lending validity to your content and illustrating timeliness with concrete evidence. For example, using stats to highlight a given topic’s search traffic proves a trend and shows reporters and editors that a story on your topic is likely to drive clicks and views. Google Trends is a free and easy-to-navigate tool that provides these metrics. When it comes to interview offers, COVID-19 has raised the bar for experts; make sure yours has the right credentials, topical experience and is media trained. If it feels like a stretch or you question whether they can deliver, leave them out of the pitch.
  4. Get to the point in two sentences: A good pitch should show an understanding of the product or topic you’re pitching in a concise, readable and convincing manner, and it needs to do so in the first two sentences. Skip the buzzwords. Use every day speak and dive right into the content you’re sharing in a straightforward and honest way. It’s ok to be less formal and more conversational, especially as reporters crave a sense of personal connection and are time-starved.

As a result of COVID-19, the lens through which outreach is conducted, pitches are received and stories are written is forever changed. Journalists’ resources are under increasing strain, making productive relationships with PR professionals more important than ever before. If you need help telling your brand story and leveraging these four takeaways to drive news, please contact me at mtaber@linhartpr.com.