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Public relations professionals face slashed budgets, salary reductions and media pitching challenges due to the Covid-19 epidemic. Many scrambled to adjust media pitching tactics to find Covid-19 angles. As a result, many feel increased stress, a survey reveals.

Opinions differ on whether PR pros should send journalists media pitches not related to Covid-19. Some PR pros recommend postponing pitches unrelated to the epidemic. As the media focused almost exclusively on the epidemic, PR pros worked hard to find Covid-19 angles — sometimes too hard.

In a new survey of 400 PR professionals by BuzzStream and Fractl, 62% of paid and earned media pitches since March 1 referenced Covid-19. PR professionals considered pitches related to Covid-19 to be 2.3 times more effective than pitches unrelated to the pandemic: 78% of pitches related to the virus were effective, compared to 33% of pitches not referencing the virus.

Common tactics included using Covid-19 in subject lines, sharing “feel good” stories, and relating Covid-19 to client offerings. The most popular verticals in virus-related pitches included health and wellness, lifestyle, and education.

Contrived Covid-19 Angles

According to the survey, 42% of PR pros admitted they had sent a pitch that felt opportunistic, using the Covid-19 pandemic to their benefit; 19% said they sent an unethical pitch, and 17% sent a pitch they felt was in poor taste.

While both journalists and PR people disagree on the effectiveness of non-coronavirus pitches, they agree that PR pros should not try to force connections.

“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,” cautions Blair Nicole Nastasi, CEO & founder of Media Moguls PR

More Budget and Stress Difficulties

About half (49%) said clients reduced their PR budget as a result of the pandemic. However, 21% increased their PR spending. In addition, almost three-fourths (73%) said they feel confident about the value of PR during the epidemic, and 59% feel self-assured about their effectiveness.

The results indicate that at least some businesses understand the critical importance of PR and marketing during difficult economic times. PR pros who experienced previous recessions argue that businesses that maintain healthy PR and marketing spending will win market share over the long term while competitors hunker down and cut budgets.

Fifty-three percent of PR professionals saw a reduction in their compensation due to Covid-19, and 57% saw furloughs or layoffs at their employer. While most felt confident about their job security, 65% reported experiencing stress and 51% felt burnout.

PR has long been known as one of the more stressful occupations.  Last year, CareerCast rated public relations executive as the eighth most stressful job, behind life-or-death occupations like soldier, police officer, firefighter and airline pilot. The survey reported that 78% of respondents rate their job stress at seven or higher on a ten-point scale, up significantly since 2017 when 69% scored their job stress seven or higher.

Bottom Line: PR professionals feel stressed as they grapple with budget reductions and media pitching challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic. Pressure to link media pitches to Covid-19 to win desperately need media placements — even if the connection feel forced – may contribute to growing stress.

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