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Why relationships and empathy are now more important than ever in PR

I am writing this, and you may well be reading this, from the comfort of your own home.

I would much rather be spending my working day in our central London office, enjoying the company of my colleagues, brainstorming ideas for a pitch, welcoming clients – the type of things that anyone working in PR may have taken for granted up until recently.

No matter what industry you work in, no matter what corner of the globe you live in, COVID-19 has impacted every aspect of our personal and professional lives.

While the health of family, friends and your community is, of course, the main priority at this time, we have all been concerned about the impact this pandemic will have on our working lives. For PR practitioners and journalists alike, there is no exception.

A changing focus

The move to home working at Babel has, for the most part, run to plan. In addition to twice daily calls with the whole agency and regular video conferences with clients, we’ve also had a Friday afternoon online quiz and are planning virtual social events to maintain high spirits.

Perhaps the biggest change that we have had to adapt to is something we have had no control over – the news agenda. Following months of planning and thousands of man-hours spent preparing, the vast majority of major campaigns, product launches and global events such as the Mobile World Conference (MWC) have been shelved.

We all hope that such incidents are temporary postponements rather than permanent cancellations, but in the meantime we have been working closely with clients to provide guidance on messaging, content, tone and timing in a media environment dominated by COVID-19.

With the majority of our clients specialising in tech and telco, many are playing an active role in helping their own customers, who are having to adapt to the sudden growth in remote working. They are therefore well placed to offer insight into issues such as the additional pressure on broadband services, maintaining cyber security when away from the office and the way in which hackers adapt their tactics during times of pandemic.

The importance of media relations

Yet while the expertise is unquestionable, in these unprecedented times, PR professionals need to balance the desire for coverage with the risk of being seen to seek publicity during a crisis. That is why relationships with journalists are more important than ever.

One of the most valuable skills that any PR must have is a detailed knowledge and understanding of the media. We need to know which journalists, whether national or trade, print or broadcast, freelance or staff, are writing about the topics of most interest to our clients. It is that knowledge which helps us provide counsel to clients, not just in these extraordinary times, but on a daily basis.

The in-depth media relations that we have developed at Babel PR mean that we have been able to have open, empathetic conversations with journalists about how we can assist them in creating informative articles about how employers and employees are able to adapt during this period. That empathy extends to the understanding that journalists are facing the same personal and professional pressures that we are all under. Courtesy, patience and sensitive communication are invaluable, more now so than ever.

And while we continue to achieve great media coverage for our clients, we are also advising them on how best to use this quieter time to refresh other aspects of their communications mix. So whether it be reviewing requirements for spokespeople media training, revising messaging on your website and social channels, or considering how more long-form content can be used to appeal to prospects, now is the perfect time to ensure you are in a stronger position to hit the ground running when we return to normality.

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