Written by Jade Denby, Senior Digital PR Manager

Over the last few weeks, life has changed dramatically for everyone. Our routines went out of the window as we found ourselves setting up new at-home office spaces, figuring out how to communicate with colleagues and loved ones over video conferencing software and messaging apps and having to give serious thought to just ‘popping out to the shops’.   

For many, we’ve now had a little bit of time to adjust and form some semblance of the new normal. Nevertheless, as a PR, there was initially lots of questions as to the best course of action. Do journalists want my content? Or will they be so bogged down by all things COVID-19 that I won’t stand a chance of my pitches being seen?

Through Twitter and online forums, I found that my fellow PR’s were wondering the same and at times, reaching out to journalists directly for clarity.

We’ve compiled some top tips from journalists to aid you in your PR efforts during the Coronavirus outbreak.

Jane Hamilton, Journalist & Editor at The Sun

Jane Hamilton is a journalist and editor at The Sun and is responsible for overseeing The Mrs Crunch section which focuses on family money saving. Jane also runs The Sun’s Sunemployment campaign and the Saturday Property column. If you are a PR who can supply exclusives in consumer, parenting, female-focused news, inspiring interiors on a budget or property trends, then she should be on your contacts list.

Jane wrote a concise piece on her top tips for pitching journalists. You can read this in full over on LinkedIn, but we’ve highlighted some key points for you here.

It’s OK to pitch

As clients ponder over which marketing activities to pause, Jane urges us all to continue to send in our PR pitches. After the initial COVID-19 stories break, the news cycle will largely return to normal. And whilst we know that journalists too are having to adapt, with sportswriters being placed on news desks, for instance, there is still an appetite for ‘business as usual’ content.

That being said, journalists are not currently welcoming phone pitches. Whilst all other usual lines of communications are welcomed (such as email and Twitter), PR’s shouldn’t be ringing news desks. They are under increased pressure and do not have the time to field calls.

Consider new lead times

Whilst journalists are keen to continue as before to a degree, lead times have been impacted and PR’s need to familiarise themselves accordingly. Daily print publications are now going off to the printers much earlier. As the appetite for online news content soars, remember that that online teams are under increasing pressure. So be sure to send your pitch in as early as possible. Now is also an opportunity for the early risers. With many working from home, journalists included, try sending in your pitch much earlier in the day.

Be honest with your client

Across the spectrum of all things PR, we are seeing some brands who are keen to pause all activity altogether, whilst others are trying to still to gain coverage but with a view to changing tact or planned campaigns to suit journalist needs. In such times, Jane is urging PR’s to be honest and manage expectations accordingly. It’s important to remember that you are the PR expert and not the client. In just a few weeks, the world has become a different place (at least for now) and so it pays to listen to the experts. Misjudging a sell-in right now could, of course, have far wider-reaching implications for a brand.

Photography is welcomed

At a time when we are all staying in our homes unless necessary to venture outside, it stands to reason that publications also don’t want to risk sending out their photographers. Do you have good imagery to compliment your story which will solve this problem for a journalist? If you do, that could be a huge help and offer you an advantage.

Check-in before sending samples

Jane urges us all to check in with the journalist to see if they really do require a sample. It goes without saying that if the journalist is compiling a ‘best of’ product roundup, they will need to test the products in question. But this isn’t always necessary. PR’s should also consider the added pressure on delivery drivers at the moment. If it is essential, you may need to create a new home address database for your contacts.

Angelica Malin, Editor-in-Chief at About Time Magazine

Angelica Malin is the Editor-in-Chief at About Time Magazine and is interested in receiving stories around restaurant openings, food news, special menus, press trips and travel features. In addition to this, she can also be found covering health, fitness, beauty launches and quirky things to do in London. Another area of interest is all things female empowerment as she hosts the #SheStartedIt podcast and the #SheStartedItLIVE festivals.

At the end of last week, Angelica gave an informative webinar on how she would like to be pitched at the moment. From this, we found there to be five key takeaways.

Be personal

There has never been more of a need to be personal in your pitches. Generic press releases won’t land well and tailoring the first line of the pitch to the journalist is key. So spend time familiarising yourself with each journalists latest updates on social media and research the main topics that they cover.

Positive content is king

In the last few weeks journalists have been trying to work out their new normal, and from next week things should be getting better. They want positive stories that show social good. Remember to show the people behind the businesses. Consider if your story is both positive and emotive.

Coronavirus is not a news hook

Brands who try to tailor their story very loosely to coronavirus will not be viewed positively. Brands and PR’s should be careful not to be too glib and light-hearted about the situation. They should also not be seen to be blatantly profiteering off the pandemic. Don’t pitch that your sales are soaring right now. Some brands will be naturally, for instance, recipe box subscriptions, but focus on why and the human behaviour behind the ‘trend’ as the main sell in.

Question everything before you promote

Is it relevant and does it feel right to push it? If not, you should be honest with your client. Whilst we have seen many businesses flip their model from an in-store or face-to-face offering to a virtual one, this may not translate well for all businesses. Don’t be tempted to simply jump on the bandwagon as your backup plan. Always consider if it is quirky, interesting or informative as a result.

Add an expert voice

Adding an expert that has relevance to your brand can help to elevate your pitch. Top tips style content can add a sense of authority but be sure to send these in your secondary email as an attached word document, so the journalist doesn’t feel as though you aren’t tailoring these to them and simply blanket pitching all journalists with the same generic tips.

Consider a social media only pitch

Can you suggest the brand for the publication’s social media instead of the usual editorial coverage? For example, a winemaker could offer up a sommelier for a wine tasting on Instagram live instead of sending the usual top tips for an article. Journalists need unique social content now more than ever with how much time we are spending on social media platforms.

Additional great points made by Angelica were that PR’S should avoid pitching previews of anything which will be happening or opening later this year. Now, we simply don’t know when to expect things to return to normal and so these types of pitches should be put on hold for the time being. Interestingly, About Time Magazine is also more open to receiving data and surveys than they were previously. If it can add a personal or emotive insight or provide evidence to back up the story, then it can help to strengthen a pitch. And lastly, journalists really want PR’s to be gentle in their communications and not overly pushy in sending follow-ups. At a time when anxiety is high, this is a great point to remember. We should all be trying to be kind.

If you represent a brand that can’t adapt to anything in the current news cycle or perhaps just wants no association to anything Coronavirus related, the good news is that there is still ways to cut through the noise. There is currently a great roundup of journalists who are calling out for stories and want to continue on as before – https://www.radioactivepr.com/breaking-journalists-looking-non-coronavirus-related-content/.

We hope you’ve gained some actionable insights from our article. Our PR experts are consistently monitoring events, so if you would like any direct advice, please feel free to drop us an email at enquiries@wavemakernorth.co.uk as we would be happy to help.