There are two basic ways PR and media relations pros, and the organizations they represent, can react to the current situation: retreat and hide, or reach out and create, says media pitching guru Michael Smart of MichaelSmart PR. During a webinar, "Thoughts on Overcoming this Crisis – in PR, in the Economy, in Life," today, he advocated for the latter.
Smart began on a personal note. "Things won't be as bad as we imagine...things will get better...though maybe not soon," he told an audience of 500 virtual attendees. PR pros might have to put some of their dreams "on hold...it's OK to have a feeling of grief," Smart added.
On the other hand, opportunities spring from crisis. Several businesses emerged during bad economic times, he said.
For example, the 2008 recession led to Sony retrenching and cutting marketing, he said. The iPhone, though, debuted on the edge of that recession. “Apple didn’t wait [for the recession to end], it reached out…it created.”
Pitch with Sensitivity
Similarly, he argued media pitching can continue now. It should be done, though, with a large dose of sensitivity. Smart insists pitchers know the journalists they target. “If a journalist is writing about COVID-19 all the time,” he said, “and dealing with sick relatives, don’t pitch [her] a story about fabric softener.”
On the other hand, consumers “are starved for content…[and] demand is skyrocketing…journalists know people are stuck at home,” he said. The relative few content creators who are not on 24/7 coronavirus duty are producing entertainment or human interest stories, for example. Find out what they need and pitch them.
As evidence of the varied media landscape, Smart cited a tweet from Felicity Cross, features editor at Britain’s "Daily Star" (see below). He also noted his wife's sewing blog, whose traffic has spiked this week as people have more time to devote to the craft.
Hello #PR friends! We can’t write a whole paper about Coronavirus. We don’t want to. We need your non-CV themed stories more than ever. Fun stuff especially. Email in my bio! #journorequest
— Felicity Cross (@fliccross) March 17, 2020
Timing is Everything, but Beware of 'Business as Usual'
Another thing media relations pros should be doing, Smart said, is watching the news for signs of a decline in coronavirus cases. When new cases begin to drop, "particularly in your key market," media at large slowly will become more interested in varied pitches. At some point, “business as usual" will start to return, he said.
Similarly, PR pros should keep an eye on coronavirus cases in New York City, “the epicenter” of journalism. Sadly, of course, New York State also seems to be America's epicenter of coronavirus. “It will be tough to get national media, based in NY, interested” in a non-virus pitch until cases fall there, Smart admitted. As of now, that day is far in the future. Cases in the Big Apple rose 50 percent yesterday.
Spikes and Bumps Again
Smart adding a caveat to his talk. Normal conditions for media pitching will not return once coronavirus cases decline throughout the country. A fall in the number of cases, he said, likely will spur more people to ignore best practices, such as frequent hand washing and distancing. “Whatever the government does, people will begin to socialize, and it will cause another spike” in cases, he said.
For now, though, PR pros should begin each day "thinking about how to create more value" for people than they did the day before, Smart said.
In addition, PR pros should limit ingesting news to two times per day. And “be purposeful.” Monitor the news for “anything dramatic in the last 2 hours” that will change the way you operate. “Don’t obsess over the news…[instead] go create.”
Again, while watching news keep on an eye on the case rate.
For PR pros who are having trouble dealing the stress of the moment, Smart recommended concentrating on things “within your direct control.”
You can control what you do. For example, you can decide to learn additional skills, exercise and read more or lose weight. “You can’t control what the economy does or what a newscaster says.”
Smart said he applied this advice Wednesday (March 18), when an Earthquake rocked his Utah home office. "My mind was paralyzed" at first, he said. Eventually he grounded himself. He did so by concentrating on what he could control. His stress subsided, he said, after he concluded that he could control himself only.
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