The Coronavirus pandemic is shining a bright, unflattering spotlight on a public relations staple: Rapid response media relations. Proactive media outreach taking place in the midst or aftermath of an incident (data breach, passage of government legislation or, currently, the Coronavirus) offers the opportunity to add your company’s voice to a high-profile conversation, build relationships with key industry reporters and potentially add prospects to the sales pipeline. However, this rapid response energy can also backfire and have a detrimental effect.
Since the start of the Coronavirus news cycle we’ve seen our reporter contacts vent their frustration on Twitter, outing story pitches perceived as tone-deaf or too product centric. In tandem, we’re working with our clients and advising them on the best way to carefully communicate the insight and relevance they bring to this pandemic’s urgent public safety, cybersecurity, economic and other consequences in an unprecedented time.
While we eagerly look forward to the day when “normal” operations resume, we also know that rapid response opportunities will continue to present themselves. As such, we have outlined a handful of rapid response best practices that we share with clients, including:
Offer Insightful Commentary
When it comes to rapid response, it’s essential to have unique insights and offer perspectives that are prescriptive, not just observational. On “Day 1” you must offer an immediate reaction and intelligence outlining the specific threat. This phase is essential to having the credibility to offer later perspectives for “Day 2” and follow-up stories. Comments need to answer critical questions: How does the issue impact end-users? What actions do companies/people need to take? How can they prevent this in the future?
Choose Your Rapid Response Campaigns Wisely
In media relations you often improve relationships by staying OUT of reporters’ inboxes if you do not have insightful commentary. Superficial or “me too” commentary damages your credibility. This may seem counterintuitive if you don’t have established relationships with journalists, but it always pays to choose your shots carefully and resist piling on to the fray if you ultimately cannot add anything valuable to the story.
Our team draws a sharp distinction between this type of nuanced rapid response outreach and “newsjacking,” or using breaking news for a direct company or product tie-in. Newsjacking can be effective with events that are sweeping – but not necessarily life and death (think pop culture and seasonal themes). You should not take a newsjacking-style approach to every developing story and make it about your company or client. This is especially true in the case of the Coronavirus.
These questions serve as a good litmus test:
- Do we have unique, firsthand insight on the incident, like participants’ point of views, or data?
- Have any members of our leadership team or other experts handled a similar matter in the same scale or industry?
- Are there factual errors publicly circulating concerning your organization’s involvement?
If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” you may have a case for tactful media outreach. If not, you should hold on pitching reporters at that point in the news cycle and focus initially on other communications channels, like blog content or social media.
Leverage Owned and Social Media Channels
Remember that earned media is only one slice of the atmosphere. If you don’t have what a reporter necessarily needs at that moment, start a blog series about the incident to share your context instead. Cut a podcast with your experts or record a simple video on the fly. Share insights on Twitter and LinkedIn – and tag the names of the reporters/outlets that broke the news and your subject matter experts’ handles. This is a way to stay visible on high-profile current events valuable to your organization’s or clients’ peers and key audiences, without bombarding reporters, potentially earning their wrath and sending relationship-building with them back to Square One.
Be Honest and Altruistic, with Tact
If your company is giving away products or services for the benefit of a community in a crisis — then great. That can inoculate you from appearing to “ambulance-chase,” but the message and execution must be on-point. For example, reconsider using a registration wall for your free offering or making your gesture as thin as a 14-day software trial. Always look at the optics. How would it look if a relief worker, for example, asked natural disaster victims to open free membership accounts before receiving emergency rations, tents and blankets? Crises are sweeping and distracting, but after they pass memories of vendors’ behavior tend to linger.
While there is no “fit size fits all” plan for rapid response, these best practices can help companies lend their experience and expertise to these conversations. A thoughtful, judicious response in the midst of incidents can set a company and its experts apart – not only as a resource for journalists, but also as a potential vendor for customers down the road.