PR Pros Adapt Pitching and Messaging Frequency to Pandemic

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One of the top questions on PR pros' minds is how often they should be pitching to the media. In pre-COVID days, the answer was simple. Develop a relationship with appropriate media and stakeholders and feed information as needed. With the public hungry for the latest COVID-19 information, communicators, particularly those representing brands unrelated to healthcare or finance, may feel unsure. 

During a crisis, some consumers don’t mind seeing messaging from organizations they favor, according to a recent report, citing a survey from the 4A's and GlobalWebIndex. Forty-three percent of 1,000 respondents said, “It is reassuring to hear from the brands I know and trust.”

We spoke with agency pros about how they are approaching the frequency of pitching media, as well as distributing messaging from their representative brands. Knowing your audience, as well as the nuances of content involved, rang consistent throughout the conversations. 

Frequency and Audience

Overwhelmingly, the PR pros mentioned the importance of knowing your audience. Similarly, they counseled looking deeper than usual at audience needs during the pandemic, as priorities may have shifted. 

Karina Frayter, head of corporate media at RF Binder, noted that stakeholder needs may differ now, depending on the nature of the industry and other circumstances. 

“The key is a way that makes it clear why it is relevant...and at this moment,” Frayter said. 

Companies, Frayter said, have an obligation to employees and customers to communicate steps they’re taking to protect their health and well-being. "But it’s important to not overdo it, particularly with direct outreach via emails or text messages."

To ensure that communication is impactful, "brands should only reach out with helpful, concise and highly-relevant information that says, 'We care about you.' Now is the time to provide value, not sell.”

Sabrina Browne, account director, corporate practice at BCW, noted the importance of cadence.

Make sure PR and those it represents "are all on the same page with how communications and business priorities have shifted as a result of the pandemic,” Browne said. For some brands this means an increase in frequency. "For others, it might mean you need to establish routines with new members of the client organization who have communications demands that didn’t exist before COVID-19.”

Internal and External 

The messaging destination of internal versus external audiences also plays a role in how often information is delivered.

“Don’t hesitate to ask key audiences what frequency...they are interested in seeing from your company or organization," said Julie Sternberg, senior communications strategist at HUNTER. "Ask employees if daily email updates are helpful."

In regard to external audiences, Hunter is seeing brands, influencers and media outlets asking audiences online what they are interested in receiving and how often, Sternberg said.

Frequency and Content

For many Americans, staying home and watching press briefings has become a way of life. While the initial information deluge may have subsided, content trends are emerging regarding messaging fatigue. This depends on brand and industry.

“To act successfully, PR professionals should develop messages that matter most to consumers, amplify services that offer relief, and refrain from capitalizing on consumer anxiety during this time,” Browne said.

Frayter believes brands should focus on quality over quantity.

“To avoid being perceived as over-communicating, brands should be intentional in their communication—don’t just say something to say something,” Frayter said. “Companies should also consider telling their story and providing updates through owned channels, like social media platforms and blogs on the corporate site. This type of communication is not intrusive and can be done more frequently, without a risk of annoying target audiences.”

Working With Media

In normal times, reporters carry a heavy load. For many, it's worse now. 

Jan Rasmussen, SVP and partner, FleishmanHillard, puts herself in the reporter's shoes. Many journalists were pulled from their normal beats to cover the pandemic.  

“First, and foremost, be empathetic and kind,” Rasmussen said. “Ask yourself, 'Do I really have a new insight to share that will be useful?'"

For reporters working around the clock, be judicious with your pitches. Many reporters have been pulled from their normal beats to cover the crisis, so check their recent articles. 

"Make sure you know what they’re covering...and only then reach out with relevant information.”  

Browne suggested sticking with media relations basics, while also being patient.

When touching base with a reporter, see first how they're doing, Browne said. "Ask if they are accepting pitches—not everyone is." If you don’t already have a relationship with the reporter, position yourself as a resource. Share, at-a-glance, what the brand is doing to provide aid, relief and/or support. "And be sure to provide the context for why it matters." In addition, be patient—"everyone is doing their best to navigate the pandemic–reporters included.” 

Some Things Should Wait 

While PR pros may feel it in their nature to do everything they can for those they represent, it may be in their best interest to hold certain items.

Rasmussen of FleishmanHillard said to pay close attention to signs when it will be ok to begin approaching the media with non-COVID material.

“The ratio of pandemic to non-pandemic news will gradually shift, and the readership and social sharing of the top pandemic news stories will decline versus the current trend,” Rasmussen said. “However, this will vary by location, and the opportunity to re engage also will vary by product or service category, reflecting shifts in consumer priorities that we can see forming in opinion data today.”

And don’t just rely on your seasonal pitching calendar from 2019, which may be moot.

“This will not be a time to look at the previous year's media relations calendar and simply pick up the seasonal pitch themes that always worked.”

To learn more about navigating media relations during COVID, check out our PRNEWS webinar, Media Relations Strategy in the Midst of a Global Crisis on April 29.