Media Relations in The New Normal: Pitching Non-Virus Stories with Knowledge and Integrity
March 23, 2020
Right now, it’s all you see or read. COVID-19 consumes the attention of major news outlets and local community media. The progress of the disease, as well as information about efforts to fight it, is generating detailed coverage around the clock. Considering the world-altering nature of this global pandemic, it’s expected; we need good, current information on which to base our daily decisions and guide our lives.
The disease is impacting everyone in every walk of life worldwide and affecting how we earn our livelihoods. For health public-relations professionals, we are faced with difficult questions about pitching non-virus stories to the media. Should we continue to pitch as normal, or will our efforts be perceived as an annoyance to media trying to cover the spread of coronavirus?
Whether it’s clinical trial results, product launches or chronic disease observance days, non-virus healthcare stories continue to unfold and will be of great interest to mainstream news audiences, especially as news about COVID-19 normalizes and takes up fewer column inches. And while healthcare reporters acknowledge major changes in the way they are assigned stories – being pulled off their regular beats – most still urge public relations professionals to continue sharing their pitches in a thoughtful manner.
This means that we should continue to pitch our stories and take extra steps to make the process easier for reporters. These changes include:
- Dispense with the Creativity: As reporters have less time to review and evaluate potential stories, it’s important to be as specific as possible with your press materials. Dispense with some of the creative flair that may be the standard during normal times. Keep it to the point.
- Audit the Media Outlet: Be it a quick internet search or a review of recent coverage, identify the reporters who seem to be most immersed in virus coverage. Should they be among your contacts, seek out alternative reporters to approach with your story. Acknowledge these efforts in your cover note.
- Be Flexible: Perhaps a reporter is interested in your pitch but has no time in the foreseeable future to pursue the story. Acknowledge the situation, letting the reporter know that it isn’t necessary to act immediately, and that several weeks could be allotted to the process. In addition to time, be flexible as to location, offering reporters virtual deskside briefings with your clients to tee up future coverage.
- Prioritize Long-Lead Agenda: As most magazines have longer-leads – working several months out – reporters at these publications are not as likely to experience the same challenges as those with daily assignments. Perhaps create a special long-lead strategy around an upcoming pitch that isn’t time-specific and that will be most relevant in the coming months.
- Customize Special-Interest Topics: While medical and health reporters are our prime contacts, evaluate the possibility of customizing your material so it appeals to special-interest reporters not involved in the virus reporting, ranging from entertainment or technology to fitness or women’s health.
- Pursue Local Opportunities: Most public relations professionals seek out coveted national placements, whether it be a network morning show or the front of the Wall Street Journal business section. Given many national outlets are “over-the-top” saturated with virus news, pitching efforts may be best received on the local and regional levels. Remember that these local outlets rely on the national wires for the most critical developments and must maintain the natural news flow to serve their communities throughout the crisis. Many Satellite Media Tour (SMT) vendors are already on board, and are providing reduced fee options, both for television and radio.
No one would dispute that stories about advances in fighting cancer or controlling non-communicable diseases like diabetes or cardiovascular disease are important to millions who are facing these issues.
Face it, someone with mental health concerns, people looking for cancer-care innovation, and those that treat patients with urgent needs have not taken a vacation. Medical innovation remains a priority. While these are not “normal times,” these stories still have meaning and will play an increasingly vital role as balance is restored to the news cycle in the weeks ahead.
By The FINN Health Practice Media Team
Authored by: Ariane Sloan, Glenn Silver, Erich Sandoval, and David Lieberson from the United States and Europe