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How to get media cut through in these Covid times

There is only one thing dominating the news right now, so it is not easy to get a journalist’s attention with stories unrelated to the pandemic. We asked senior PR communicators for their top tips for achieving cut through.

Invest time and resources
Sue Grant, managing director, B2B tech, Europe at PR firm Allison+Partners: “In 2020, it often felt like walking on eggshells when reaching out to journalists. Is now a smart or sensitive time to pitch? Is my pitch still timely with the current news cycle? 

“As PRs we need to invest in unique ways to build and maintain media relationships that will pay off. As we enter 2021, building quality relationships with regular contacts will continue to be critically important. 

“This might range from investing time (allocating time for teams to read journalists’ content and share feedback separate to outreach on behalf of a client) to investing in resources (perhaps you Deliveroo the journalist’s favourite meal to chat about your news over a virtual lunch). Taking the time to be thoughtful, appreciative and supportive will continue to pay dividends.” 

Have a unique point of view
Sue Grant: “Spokespeople with a POV will be more important than ever. A spokesperson that plays it safe or sticks to a branded script will no longer make news. The competition for media presence has never been more fierce. Media now crave brand representatives who stand for something and aren't afraid to say it, and can offer insightful commentary and content on what the future holds.”

Offer some escapism  
Jessica Pardoe, senior PR executive at agency The Source PR: “The best way to cut through the pandemic talk at the moment is by bringing positivity to the table. We are all feeling gloomy right now, so I think if there’s one thing people want to hear, it’s feel-good stories. I’ve seen lots of great campaigns that have achieved good coverage just because they’re a little light escape from reality. Back in the first lockdown, we ran a campaign for our hospitality client on social media which asked them to relive their favourite wedding memory which had thousands of engagements. Whether it’s a social media strategy, or a wider media relations strategy going to the press, I think one of the best ways to cut through pandemic-talk at the moment is to give people escapism. “

Rachel Rix, director at PR firm Ketchum:Getting cut through for a PR story used to be about conjuring up the most disruptive story possible. But as with everything else we’ve come to know, this has changed. Journalists are now on the look out for content that offers a complete step change to Covid news. Their readers are seeking uplifting, heart-warming stories – stories that help them escape our unpredictable reality and allow them to indulge in something safe and hopeful. This means a shift towards positive news. In other words, if you don’t have anything positive to say, don’t say anything at all.”

Think digital
Amber Organ, practice director at Ketchum: The pandemic has pushed the boundaries of how comms professionals use digital and, being creative and agile remains more crucial than ever.

“The current landscape has made way for an even more laser-focused approach on digital; with no way to physically bring people together, digitally driven approaches and innovation has led to the creation of new online experiences, briefings via new platforms, inspiring influencer content.

“At a time when more digital content is being consumed than ever before, this is the ripest opportunity area and one we all need to be fully literate in.”

Demonstrate your company’s purpose
Montieth Illingworth, CEO of communications consultancy Montieth & Company: “In the age of Covid-19, organisations large and small have scrambled not just to adapt to different workstyles, but also the new realities of what needs to be achieved with marketing communications. Foremost among them is conveying ‘who’ you are as a company and with material credibility; that’s become almost more important than pushing engagement with what you’re selling.

“When, for example, you say you want more diversity on your board, it has to be delivered. If you say it, you have to live it. Credible corporate agency is what sells. We’re all existentialists now and it’s the job of PR to communicate that. Here’s three ways to achieve this:

“Take a stand – choose a societal issue across the environmental, social and governance (ESG) spectrum, be thoughtful about the complexities, forge alliances in civil society, take real action. There’s no room for mere virtue signalling.

“Measure it – show how your engagement benefited someone. Small-scale results are fine. It’s the human impact that matters.

“Do it with humilityno one ever gets it perfect, so speak humbly both about the aspiration and the results in your communications. If you’ve tackled a real problem in the world, victory is never immediate.”

Ideas that worked
Sharmee Mavadia, director at agency Sharp PR: “I work for Toyota in the lifestyle PR team and we found the following helped last time around and will be doing the same.

"We brainstormed remotely and worked together with the team to create tactical and topical content that ranged from practical advice relating to cars, through to sheer entertainment. Our content programme included:

  • Top tips on how to maintain your car during a lockdown
  • Advice on how to make sure your car is germ-free
  • Arty challenges to keep busy during lockdown, eg, colouring sheets, paper templates and how to make an origami cat
  • Ideas for mental stimulation and relaxation
  • Heart-warming story: Robins found nesting in wheel arch of a Toyota Corolla...”

As well as the vaccine, everyone needs a dose of optimism, so now is a good time for PRs to help cheer up the nation.

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