The rules of PR have been turned upside down: Pitching to journalists in the middle of a pandemic

Posted on 15th April 2020 by Rebecca Brown

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While it’s business as usual for the Skout team, like every business we have been experiencing a number of changes due to the Coronavirus. Rather than conducting our meetings and talking to the media from our little office in Macclesfield, we are now working in the safety of our homes (undoubtedly great news for our furry friends). This unprecedented landscape has brought a few more challenges than usual for PR, especially when it comes to pitching to journalists. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel…

It may come as no surprise that I am writing this blog from the comfort of my living room – my desk is located next to my sofa and my co-worker has four paws and loves an ear scratch (I don’t think my colleague Alex Brown would appreciate this in the same way). It’s definitely an out of the ordinary situation. However, there are many people currently in the same position. Recently, I attended the webinar ‘City in lockdown: How business media is dealing with the Coronavirus crises’ which painted a picture of how B2B publications are operating during this time.

Here’s what I learnt:

Challenges facing the media

As the virus spread to Europe, some publications started to plan for their staff working at home, experimenting with how they would produce their newspapers and magazines and how they would ensure all vital deadlines would still be met on time. After the UK entered lockdown, publications put their ‘disaster plans’ in action.

Yet, journalists are still facing many difficulties. For example, budget cuts due to lack of advertising has resulted in staff being furloughed, leaving publications with a reduced workforce, and the trade gossip which journalists usually rely on to write stories is nearly non-existent as there is currently no ‘shop floor’.

Pitching during the pandemic

When it comes to pitching, there is an unspoken rulebook between journalists and PR professionals – even though there is some debate around these rules depending on which side of the fence you sit on. Yet, the current situation has turned this rulebook upside down. According to Simon English, chief city reporter for the Evening Standard, PR activity has considerably dropped off, which is ironic as at the moment it would actually be welcomed. “Even content that would previously have had no chance of being published would be considered”.

So, if you work in PR and are uncertain about how to pitch to journalists during lockdown, here’s what you need to know:

  • The Coronavirus has changed the tone of voice for articles. For example, there is not much room for flippancy. Tips – read the story several times, get other people to check it on your behalf, be careful of language.
  • There is a focus on who’s doing well and why, rather than the ‘losers’ in this scenario. Journalists are looking for upbeat news and any sign of normal life.
  • Email is the best way of getting hold of journalists – they are constantly checking for stories. Don’t worry if you send the story to them twice or to multiple people.
  • When pitching, start from the beginning. Don’t assume journalists know what your client does.
  • Personal relationships will pay off. Journalist are leaning on key contacts for stories.
  • There is still room for stories that aren’t Covid-19 related!

It’s clear that the media landscape may be changed for some time and whether you’re a journalist or PR professional, it’s important that we all continue to share our experience, stories and advice – we’re all in this together.

Stay safe!

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