Apr 9th 2020

Ensuring your media relations programme adapts to the challenge

Coronavirus has created challenges for every industry, and PR certainly isn’t exempt. Due to changes and unpredictability in the news agenda, in recent weeks we, as PR professionals, have had to adapt our practices to ensure that we continue to generate meaningful coverage and results for our clients.

This of course applies to media relations – the most important component of PR – which has been impacted by Covid-19, not least because many journalists have been furloughed, made redundant, or like almost everyone else, working from home.

However, you only have to analyse the media landscape to understand that there is still a lot of value in continuing PR activity at the moment. There are lots of opportunities out there for companies to get their messages heard – provided you adapt your approach to media relations.

According to Signal (a media analysis tool we use at Babel) there was a 19% increase in the number of articles published in key technology titles during the last week of March/first week of April, compared to the same period a year ago.

So, despite the lack of industry events, live launches, face-to-face interviews and disruption to journalists’ working environment, the media is continuing to feature tech brands and industry insight in its news coverage. This tells us that PR is probably more important now than it has ever been, as companies don’t have the aforementioned platforms to get their messages out into the media.

Here are a couple of tips for how best to adapt your media relations strategy to ensure that your messages are being picked up by the media, and reach the people that count – your customers and prospects.

Find the right narrative

It may come as no surprise that coronavirus is dominating news headlines. However, this doesn’t just apply to mainstream business and national titles – vertical trade media are also focusing heavily on the impact of the virus to their relative industries. For example, according to Signal, 43% of articles in key telecoms media (an analysis of over 100 publications) between 25th March to 7th April 2020 contained the term ‘coronavirus’ or ‘covid-19’. This is testament to the huge impact that covid-19 is having on every industry – tech included.

Businesses should therefore carefully consider their narrative on the situation and be sure of where they can add value – without going down the dodgy ‘ambulance chasing’ route. If your company is helping key workers, consumers or businesses in the face of the virus, in a unique way, then the industry deserves to know about it. I have a lot of clients in the telecoms sector, and a lot of them are playing an important role in keeping national communications infrastructure running during this critical time – so the opportunity here for them is quite clear. However, it’s important to reinforce your messaging on the topic with industry or company statistics, if possible, to help support your views and the value your company is adding.

Understand journalists’ preferences

Babel has always taken a ‘call first, email second’ approach when contacting the media. This tends to generate the best results for our clients, while also helping us build meaningful relationships with journalists and debate issues with them (rather than making it one-way traffic). Despite the lockdown, this approach is still most effective. This is the time to search back through your email engagements with journalists to see if you can pick up their outline topics for further discussion. And if you can’t get through to them on the phone, try social media – this is often the preferred means of communication for many journalists, who often receive hundreds of emails a day.

When you speak to a journalist, you should put their priorities first. Ask them what they’re looking for in terms of content to help with their current agenda – i.e. what topics are they focusing on and what form do they want content to take – short written comment, interviews, contributed articles, etc. There is less industry news coming from events and launches at present, so we’ve found that journalists have been particularly receptive to receiving contributed articles. As such, now’s the time to set up messaging sessions, brainstorms and product information downloads with your spokespeople. This will help you develop new and interesting thoughts on industry trends and topics (including coronavirus), that will help secure articles in those top-tier publications.

The best PR professionals will listen to their clients and the issues they want to talk about, but ultimately ensure that this aligns with what journalists want and need. With journalists under increasing pressure, but churning our more articles than ever before, you have to ensure that you are going above and beyond to give them what they need. Your clients will, ultimately, be the ones that benefit most from this.


Paul Campbell
Paul Campbell ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR