Covid Cutbacks Leave Journalists Wanting More From PR

By Louise Findlay-Wilson, founder and managing director of Energy PR.

COVID-19 has impacted the world in countless ways and media relations is of course not immune. But what, in reality, has changed? To get a sense of this we surveyed 137 national and trade journalists. We asked them how their interactions with PR professionals have changed since lockdown and what effect this has had on them.

The punchline is companies have cut their activity back. Furloughing has left 38% of the journalists we spoke to with fewer organisations to approach and 53% are receiving fewer story pitches. Just 34% are receiving the same volume of news stories as before and 56% are struggling to get hold of spokespeople or marketing teams.

Even those who are still active on the PR-front, have become understandably distracted – affecting the journalists who rely on them for commentary. For instance, 48% of our media contacts said that these companies are very cautious, they are reluctant to make media decisions. They aren’t saying or doing anything new.

Add this all together and you have one in six editors struggling to fill their pages.

How to Grasp the Opportunity

This presents a real opportunity for PR professionals. So, what should you be doing? Firstly, get creative with your story ideas – 88% of journalists are keen for people to pitch feature ideas to them.

However, they quite rightly warn that this isn’t an excuse for poorly thought out news stories or lacklustre imagery. Their standards haven’t changed – poor material will be given short shrift. Over one in four (27%) say poorer stories and support material are already an issue!

Also think about your tone and content. Avoid too many COVID-related stories; 53% are frustrated by companies trying to be COVID-relevant when they simply aren’t.

At the same time, you can’t ignore the pandemic all together; be sensitive to the situation – 11% are receiving news that jars with the current climate.

All Change

COVID has also impacted on the media operationally. 36% of those we interviewed have cut their teams, with editors now working with reduced resources and additional responsibilities.

This comment was typical: “We’re no longer using freelancers, and keen to save further money my publisher has given me additional tasks – I now need to get my regular job done in less time.”

Print editors on monthly titles also face an unenviable task, as one put it: “Forward planning for print is so difficult. It’s hard to judge if something will still be relevant when the magazine lands.”

So those embarking on media outreach need to be aware of these challenges. It’s not a case of business as usual.

Channel-wide

When it comes to interacting with editors, the research highlights how important it is to think channel-wide.

With events dried up and interacting with the market harder for almost half (49%), editors are turning to LinkedIn (40%), company blogs (35%), Twitter (35%) and webinars (30%) for bigger story ideas.

Make sure you are working across all of the relevant channels – they could be a good way to interact with hard to reach media targets.

Time to have what it takes

Lastly, if you already have strong media relationships and an expert reputation, this is the moment when these are going to pay off. 71% are reaching out to established contacts for story ideas and 53% are getting them from influencers/experts.

If you don’t have these relationships in place, now is a great time to try and remedy this, fill the vacuum and steel a march on those who have put their PR into lockdown.

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