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How has lockdown altered interactions between the media and PR professionals?

25Jun Posted by Sam Burgess

We are all aware of the seismic socioeconomic changes caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Every industry has felt the effects of the crisis, with many unable to operate. For our own sector, media and communications, we have all felt disruption with two major organisational changes linking directly to coronavirus: staff numbers have been dramatically reduced and almost the entire workforce is now working remotely. These changes have had ramifications regarding how our industry operates. The way in which communications professionals interact with media professionals has altered, specifically in instances when this contact is occurring for the first time. This situation has become more common in some cases, with journalists taking up new roles to cover the areas usually dealt with by staff who have now been furloughed. We are starting to see the growing prominence of certain pitching styles and forms, with more effort being put into detailed email pitches instead of more informal phone conversations, as journalists are not using their usual work phone lines. This shift can ultimately be contextualised as part of a trend already occurring in the industry before the pandemic.

Since the onset of lockdown, the typical exchanges between journalists and PR professionals now occur almost solely via email. There are obvious reasons for this, with almost all of us now working from home and journalists no longer sitting at desks with phones easily reached by a switchboard. This fact has changed the conventional pitching process: communications professionals are often no longer able to directly speak to a journalist to flesh out and market their stories. Subsequently, the reliance on email pitches has increased. Necessity means that these pitches need to be crafted with more skill and thoughtfulness, as the option to call a journalist and explain your ideas with greater clarity generally doesn’t exist. This situation is specifically true when the journalist and PR don’t already have an established relationship; relationships cultivated long before the pandemic have more easily adapted to life in lockdown, with mobile numbers already shared.

When the PR and journalist don’t hold an already established connection, pitches need to be highly specific, understanding the journalist they are directed to and the publication they are writing in. They should also account for the strain on many journalists due to the pandemic; with reduced staff numbers a journalist isn’t going to trawl through a pitch which isn’t properly targeted to the publication and doesn’t make clear why exactly it is worth the journalist's time. Journalists want pitches that get to the point and share an interesting perspective, which can lead to thought provoking content for their readers.

Although linking to the fallout from coronavirus, this trend can also be understood as a shift already occurring in the industry. The importance of email, and developing honed pitches specifically for this medium, has been on the rise for some time. Successful communications professionals are able to develop pitches that a journalist can understand and evaluate easily. The newsworthiness of a story should come through clearly in an email. This is not to say that speaking on the phone is consistently no longer important, but as many journalists are incredibly stretched for time (even before having staff numbers cut due to COVID-19), emails have become more valuable and unnecessary phone calls less so. When they receive a call, many national newsdesks often simply ask for the information to be sent over in an email, so as to allow them time to properly read through the story and discuss it with their editors.

This development could link to a change in the general dynamics between PRs and journalists, as the trend suggests that the relationship between the two is no longer primarily about forming personal, emotional connections. With less importance on emotional relationships comes the growing importance of mutually beneficial connections, grounded in the production of interesting content for readers. This is not to say that emotional ties are no longer relevant for our industry, but rather that good content is becoming more crucial for publications who are looking to maintain and grow their readership. The most positive relationships in the media/communications world clearly have a good rapport at their heart. This is particularly the case for more consumer facing sectors like restaurants and fashion where relationships of trust are highly influential.

Lockdown has to an extent made this wider trend more apparent, as communications professionals need to rely on providing interesting story angles which are highlighted by well-developed pitches. They can’t in many instances talk to journalists on the phone and can’t take them out on a fancy media meet to ‘convince’ them to cover one of their upcoming stories. We can expect this trend to have sticking power, as coming out of the pandemic those who adapted best and rode this trend are equally set thrive in the ‘new normal’.

Sam Burgess
Sam Burgess

Sam joined Sermelo in April 2020, bringing with him over a year’s worth of experience in the world of corporate communications. Previously at W Communications he has worked on a diverse range of business-to-business clients, such as a Manchester based Venture Capital firm, a global adtech company, and an industry leading in-store solutions provider, primarily delivering content creation and media relations. Sam has also worked with a number of consumer facing companies, helping to increase brand awareness and public trust.

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