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Working with the media in Covid-19 times

If you’ve kept up with the media news since early 2020, you’ll know that the landscape across print, online and broadcast media has changed considerably.

We've experienced the closure of Bauer Media in April which spelled end of many treasured lifestyle publications (although some are on their way back!), the end of Radio Sport, and redundancies and reshuffles for numerous other sports journalists. There’s also been the loss of 200 jobs at NZME and 130 at Mediaworks, and together these have all impacted journalism in NZ. This in turn, means that the way we work with the media as PR practitioners may not be the same as pre-Covid-19 times.

Here are a few thoughts on what our team recommends – after all, the media is still a key channel for PRs:

Think smaller to get the biggest reach

We often say if you haven’t done much media communication in the past, pick one or two journalists to work with on a story rather than several at once. This continues to ring true but for all organisations, as journalists are looking for that exclusive story with a good headline that will get them the clicks they want and need. And with so many news stories now focused on a singular topic (Covid-19), it can be hard to grab the focus if your story is non-Covid related.

It’s about thinking smaller to get the biggest reach. The goal in working with the media is to get in front of your target audience, so this is about being smarter about how you do that. We find we’re now looking to send out more individual pitches, rather than blasting out a release to a list of 50+ media contacts.

By working with a couple of key journalists, you’ll also be able to make more of a connection, and over time they will come to understand your business and expertise and call on you for comment.

Be patient and respectfully persistent

With journalists under more and more pressure with higher workloads due to redundancies, they will be receiving many pitches on the daily. Be patient and don’t hound them for an answer, but make sure you don’t sit back and wait too long that your news becomes old – a short, friendly call or email follow-up would be appropriate before you move on to the next pitch.

When you pitch, look to make things as easy as possible for the journalist. Have your image attached and captioned, and note where you feel the news would sit best – anything to save them time will help get you published.

Consume news and do your research

When writing a release or pitching a story, make sure you know where the conversation sits in the media by consuming online news, radio and TV, so you don’t seem off-base or behind-the-times. Be timely in your pitches – media moves quickly and if house price rises were the topic du jour last week, the journalists won’t likely be interested in the same angle this week.

By consuming the news, you’ll not only see if your issue or topic is being discussed, but what is being talked about in general. From there, you can identify ways you could enter the conversation by providing commentary. This should be an ongoing activity, where you should be ready to pounce when your area of expertise is hitting the headlines.

When topics or issues linger in the news, look to see how you could provide a new angle. Covid-19 is a good example of this – it will be the leading story for some time to come, so journalists need new angles to keep the news wheels turning.  For instance, with the change in alert levels today, do you have an interesting news angle in your business that would interest reporters?  They will be looking for fresh news related to the level changes for a few days.

It’s also important to research the journalists writing on your topic or issue – they are the ones you want to be working with, as some of the hard work is already done; they’re interested in what you have to say or add to the current conversation.

Know your space

Our last point is to know your space – are you pitching a regional or a national story? Many local-based reporters are now writing stories of interest to a national audience, so if you can give your news a national-angle, that could be the way to go. Alternatively, if the story is regional, then make it clear; community and local papers want stories that are for their own locales, and won’t always be interested in something that doesn’t directly affect their readers.