By Kai vom HoffApril 20, 2020

PR Boutiques International announces survey results on media relations in the COVID-19 era

Many public relations professionals feel awkward about approaching journalists during this time of crisis when COVID-19 eclipses all other news. How to pitch the media during the coronavirus crisis was the subject of a new international survey of PR firms. The survey results indicate that media outreach by PR professionals is relevant, and even welcomed by some journalists.

The survey was conducted by vom Hoff Kommunikation GmbH, a member of the international PR agency network PR Boutiques International (PRBI). Survey responses came from more than 30 of my fellow PRBI agency owners worldwide. Nearly 60% are confident that journalists can be pitched successfully if done sensitively and sensibly. About 30% even said that journalists highly appreciate topics other than COVID-19 right now.

Strengthen relationships instead of sales

How to pitch the media sensitively and sensibly entails some basic rules: references to your own product or service should be avoided as much as possible, unless it solves a currently urgent problem or significantly improves the situation. According to the study, this mostly applies to the healthcare sector. PR professionals can pitch healthcare journalists within the context of the current pandemic, but should focus on the most urgent issues.

The survey also found that media pitches must be very compassionate, respectful and flexible. It is not the time for mass pitching of journalists or marketing-oriented topics. Too frequent or lengthy press releases are counterproductive. At present, the focus is more on good relations with journalists than on sales support. Therefore, PRBI members recommend customized, precise and relevant media pitches that fit the current situation in each country and with each audience. To achieve this, PR professionals should constantly keep an eye on the latest coronavirus-related developments around the world.

The survey also found that many respondents are working with their clients now to prepare appropriate strategies, messaging and communication concepts for post-COVID-19 times. This type of communication consulting is just as much in demand from PR agencies currently as brand strengthening measures.

(Crisis) communication as a factor for success

The survey also covered agencies’ experiences with clients’ PR spending during the coronavirus crisis. More than 80% of the agency owners who responded believed that clients are deciding on a case-by-case basis right now whether they want to cut back on PR expenditures. These decisions are being re-examined by clients from week to week. Only about 16% of respondents fear dramatic client budget cuts. However, none of the agencies expect budget increases.

Finally, the survey examined the importance of various communication disciplines at the current time. Crisis communication currently ranks first among PR professionals worldwide: about 42% of those surveyed considered this to be the area of greatest demand right now. This is followed by marketing (around 19%) and internal communications (around 16%).

More than half of the survey respondents stated that companies have to communicate now more than they usually do to build trust, strengthen relationships with stakeholders and remain visible during the crisis.

The bottom line: the survey shows communication to be a decisive factor in companies’ ability to navigate the coronavirus crisis successfully. The importance of effective communication is also demonstrated by companies that have damaged their reputations with inappropriate and insensitive communication, such as rushing to take advantage of the crisis.