The future of media relations: maintaining engagement in a post-pandemic world

By Ella Wallace-Browne, senior account executive at Touchdown PR.

Before 2020, socialising at work over a coffee or pizza was commonplace and this was no different for the press.

Meeting with a public relations specialist, company spokesperson or networking with another journalist over a drink was an enjoyable way to get work done. Many journalists viewed getting out of the office as a perk of the job, so pre-pandemic video conferencing was almost unheard of in a press briefings context.

This echoes the world at large. Most people are social creatures at heart and value face-to-face interactions over digital conversations. In fact, in December 2019, Zoom had just 10 million daily meeting participants. Fast forward four months to the start of the pandemic and that number had shot up to 300 million.

The new world of work for journalists centres around virtual meetings and almost three-quarters (72%) of journalists surveyed in a recent report are now regularly participating in video conferencing calls with vendors to learn about new products and innovations.

However, though this technology undoubtedly helped the journalist community over the last year, it has not come without some challenges.

So, how can feedback from journalists help vendors, marketing teams and PR pros shape and engage with the media community in 2021?

We recently conducted a global survey of 146 journalists in 16 countries who primarily write business and technology news stories to find out how the Covid-19 pandemic impacted the media community and what it means for the international PR industry. The feedback and advice given by journalists around the world offers crucial insights for anyone thinking about engaging with the media in 2021 and beyond.

Emotional frustrations and Zoom fatigue

Too many, too long and too tired. These are the three main concerns and frustrations with video conferencing. Though Zoom and Microsoft Teams were both a huge help as everyone adjusted to working from home, many journalists found themselves faced with back to back calls and meetings that ultimately resulted in them finishing work emotionally drained.

Touchdown’s research shows that keeping press briefings short and sweet makes life much easier for journalists. Results from the survey revealed that the ideal length of a press briefing, according to 59% of journalists surveyed, would be between 10-20 minutes. Nobody wants to waste their time and while small talk was generally accepted in the era of coffee shops and meeting spaces, when organising online briefings, getting straight to the point is the ideal approach.

Issues with the technology and prefered method of communication

When setting up a video conference, it’s important to ensure that all technology is running smoothly. Poor audio quality and a weak internet connection will not only take up everyone’s time but will also frustrate the journalist as it may indicate a lack of preparation.

Running a briefing smoothly may be easier on the phone as it removes the awkward format, and poor moderation issues associated with many video conferences. Journalists also cited that having too many people on the call makes the discussion feel impersonal and too heavily regulated.

Despite these frustrations, many journalists are happy to continue handling briefings in this way, with only 44% agreeing that they would prefer audio-only calls.

Top tips for the future

The world of work has now evolved and many believe that remote working will continue – at least in some form – for the foreseeable future. In light of this, it’s important for companies to take the lessons learnt from the past year and apply them to their engagement with the media community moving forward.

Communication and respect are key. We must respect the limited time that busy journalists have and use it wisely. If you’re unsure, ask what format is preferred when arranging press briefings to make their lives easier and the briefing more enjoyable.

If you are going to use video conferencing, make sure it looks and sounds good. It is also crucial that you keep briefings efficient and streamlined. To better engage with the media in 2021, marketers and PR professionals need to take on board journalists’ feedback, and apply these insights to their approach in the future.

To summarise in three clear points: keep it personal; keep it real and keep it short!

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