Should PR pitch noncoronavirus stories to the mediaWith COVID-19 stories dominating the news, PR pros wonder if they should pitch stories not related to the epidemic. They wonder if a coronavirus angle is essential for a media pitch. Journalists and PR veterans give varying answers to those questions. To a large degree, it depends on the media outlet, the reporter and the particular media pitch.

What Journalists Say

Michelle Garrett of Garrett Public Relations posed the question to journalists on Twitter: Do they want PR pitches not related to COVID-19? Some said yes. Journalists who don’t cover breaking news, who cover niche topics, and who work at magazines that plan issues several months out say please send different kinds of  pitches. Some journalists say their audiences need other types of stories for distraction.

Others said it depends. Pitch fun, uplifting stories, but hold serious story ideas.

Others – especially in daily news sources — advise postponing non-coronavirus stories. They don’t have time for anything else. Wait and reassess the situation latter.

Find a Coronavirus Angle

Some PR pros recommend finding a coronavirus angle for media pitches. Journalists want pitches that can describe the impact the coronavirus is having on people, companies, financial markets, and technology, says Dave Manzer, president and founder at Swyft. Brands that can’t develop a PR strategy that adjusts to a coronavirus-led news cycle will undermine their chances of gaining media attention.

Don’t take advantage of the misery and suffering, Manzer emphasizes. “It’s not the job of PR to find ways of profit from a crisis. Rather, it’s our job to find ways to make brands relevant to the times we live in, and make a case for winning valuable media mentions,” he says.

Manzer suggests that PR pros:

  • Pitch stories about technology that helps identify, track, contain COVID-19 or support the battle against the virus.
  • Show how the virus is affecting the economy at the national and local level or how it’s impacting a certain industry.
  • Show how people and organizations, such as educators or people working at home, are adapting.
  • Show what a company is doing for the community or its workers.

In the coronavirus era, the media prefers data-driven news stories.

Pursue Thought Leadership

Pursue thought leadership, recommends Blair Nicole Nastasi, CEO & founder of Media Moguls PR. “People are afraid and looking for direction from leaders in their industry and in the mainstream,” Nastasi says. “A great PR person will be able to help their client step into that thought leadership role.” Think about what expertise your organization and its leaders can offer. For instance, can your client help people find food, child care, or work after layoffs?

Many media outlets are receptive to lighter feel-good stories, she adds. Community service and human interest stories offer a welcome respite to the ongoing gloom.

Submit unique ideas, advises Meredith L. Eaton, director of North America at Red Lorry Yellow Lorry. Reporters have already received many, sometimes hundreds, of pitches about improving productivity while working from home. Instead, offer real-world examples about how your organization or product is making a difference.

Seek out stories by talking with managers and employees on the company’s front lines.

Do some research, Eaton says. Many journalists complain about PR coronavirus pitches on Twitter. A quick check of the profiles will show which ones to avoid.

Don’t Force a Coronavirus Connection

Journalists and PR pros agree: Above all, don’t try to force a connection to COVID-19 where none exists. Pitching a contrived link to COVID-19 will backfire. Journalists will likely promptly delete your message in disgust and complain about the pitch on Twitter. Your organization could be viewed as insensitive and opportunistic.

“Be mindful that the company link to COVID-19 is legitimate and relevant to the public conversation. Attempts to make a grab for headlines by using the corona virus to get attention will be transparent and could cause public backlash,” Nastasi warns.

Bottom Line: Should PR pitch anything not related to COVID-19? It depends on the media outlet and the particular pitch. Ignoring the current situation and continuing business as usual would be a mistake. PR pros will need to adapt and carefully consider their media pitches.