While the COVID Pandemic continues to ravage the health and well-being of communities, families, and businesses it is also starting to become the “new normal,” and professionals from all industries are beginning to acclimate their professional lives to conform to this environment. As an integrated public relations and marketing agency, Antenna has the challenge of partnering with our clients to drive brand visibility and lead generation opportunities in a difficult, noisy, and distracted media environment. Media relations is one of the areas in which we drive results for our clients and COVID has created unique challenges and obstacles to achieving success in that arena.
As one might expect, the primary focus right now for print, broadcast, and digital media is to cover COVID-related breaking news, issues, and trends. Even in good times, the daily story filing demands for journalists are both breakneck and stressful, and right now that pace is increasing exponentially.
Antenna communications professionals see themselves as partners and colleagues to the news media and it was from that vantage point that we thought it would be useful to dialogue with both general interest and business/trade publications to better understand the pitches and stories that resonate in this environment. While agencies have responsibilities to drive news stories for our clients, we are also sensitive to the demands being placed on journalists and we want to be as helpful and relevant as possible.
We received responses and/or other feedback from 15 journalists covering each of Antenna’s biggest Impact Ecosystems: Spaces, Cleantech, Health and Mobility. Each of the questions were brief and intended to elicit useful information but mindful of our respondent’s time constraints.
- Other than working from home, how has the pandemic changed how your research, reporting, and the mechanics of writing a story?
- There’s been some conversation that it is too early to pitch reporters post-COVID-19 story ideas. Is this accurate or are you open to hearing ideas?
- Has your media organization experienced a business impact from COVID?
- Is there anything else you would like to include?
Angus Chen, NPR and Scientific American
Ed Miseta, Life Science Leader
Anonymous, National Broadcast Producer
Cleantech and Mobility
Jeff St. John, Greentech Media
Carl Anthony, Automoblog
Anonymous, Energy Reporter at International Business Outlet
Anonymous, Mobility Reporter at Energy Trade Outlet
Anonymous, Energy Utility Trade Contributing Editor
Anonymous, Technology Trade Reporter
Elaine Misonzhnik, National Real Estate Investor
Samantha Rowan, REFI US
Liz Young, NY Business Journal
Lois Weiss, NY Post
Anonymous, Freelance Real Estate Reporter
Anonymous, Real Estate Trade Reporter
Health reporters unanimously expressed interest in looking at post-COVID stories; but, only stories that speak to behaviors, technologies, platforms, policies that will change as a result of COVID. One of our respondents referenced the “middle seat test,” in other words, post-COVID stories, with few exceptions, will only be of interest once travelers are prepared to fly in a middle seat.
One reporter’s pointed advice was not to pitch something as a trend unless you can prove that it is a trend. Individual anecdotes do not make a trend. It must be a phenomenon that is sustained and widespread.
Drug trials, both for COVID and non-COVID indications, are of interest to a couple of our respondents. Stories that relate to COVID’s impact on drug trials and patient recruitment, new solutions and workarounds, and whether these changes will become best practices in a post-COVID world. Ed Miseta, Chief Editor of Life Science Leader told us that he’s wondering, “Will today’s fixes become tomorrow’s best practices?”
From a business standpoint, respondents expressed some optimism about the increased focus on pharmaceutical and life science and the impact it is having on visibility as well as social media engagement and sharing.
Cleantech and Mobility
Respondents from the cleantech and mobility pool of reporters were more varied in their forecasts, observations and advice. Senior Editor at Greentech Media Jeff St. John advised that the most relevant pitches will focus on “how we can live with the new reality from this point forward,” as he doesn’t think that COVID will go away for the foreseeable future.
Carl Anthony, Managing Editor at mobility news outlet Automoblog articulated a different perspective. He shared that he and his colleagues are trying to balance COVID and non-COVID stories and cited a Radio Advertising Bureau survey that found that a majority of radio listeners want the media to “stay in their lane.” In other words, a maniacal focus on COVID stories at the expense of regular reporting is something that is unappealing to consumers. Automoblog is covering how automakers are responding to COVID (manufacturing facilities being converted to produce ventilators and/or PPE), Carl explained, but that coverage is balanced with regular automotive content. Interestingly, the site has made the decision to provide some “light and entertaining,” coverage in order to provide a break for their readers from the daily negativity. For example, they have used their Twitter feed to provide a platform for photos of classic and exotic cars. According to Carl, “We are hoping that if one of our readers sees a cool Camaro or Mustang, it will bring a smile to their face during a very uncertain time.”
Newsgathering has been a challenge for some reporters especially when the source of that information and data is public meetings convened by organizations that are not equipped with the technologies to enable Q&A.
All of the reporters surveyed expressed appreciation for public relations agencies and welcome pitches but asked that they double down on tailoring pitches to make them relevant and timely.
The business forecast was mixed with one respondent advising that while he is not privy to the business metrics of his organization, he has heard from colleagues at other media organizations that advertising revenues are down even though consumer consumption and engagement is way up. Another respondent pointed out that while everyone should expect a COVID-induced temporary drop in revenues, he is bullish about the future for two reasons: 1) business has been steadily growing for the past five years 2) readership and engagement is way up which will ultimately lead to increased advertising revenue.
Commercial real estate (CRE) has been in the crosshairs of the COVID pandemic since its March outbreak. As a result, COVID stories, according to our respondents, will be the vast majority of stories for the foreseeable future. Readers of real estate publications are looking for information that will help them make their best guess estimates about the future of CRE. Most respondents are of the opinion that there will be long term damage and their editorial focus is to mine news and data to help shape those forecasts and opinions. As Elaine Misonzhnik, Executive Editor and Director of Content at National Real Estate Investor put it, “Almost all of our stories right now have to do with the impact of COVID-19 in one way or another because of how far-reaching the consequences are.”
Rent forgiveness and deferment have been a big topic of media conversation and our respondents expressed their interest in continuing to cover that trend. Debt service in light of the reduction of rent payments is something that our respondents are closely monitoring.
Although at a slower pace than pre-COVID, real estate continues to make transactional news and some of the coverage reflects that reality. According to Lois Weiss of the NY Post and the Real Deal, “Real estate people are all proactive and always looking for the next steps and the next deals, and the next financings to keep their businesses going, so they are good at looking ahead.” Still, respondents reported that their focus is COVID and urge PR firms to be their partners in identifying those stories.
Like their colleagues, RE reporters are unable to conduct in-person interviews and tour development sites and new buildings. They are figuring out alternatives that address these limitations and notwithstanding the challenges, are still pumping out a ton of content.
COVID-19 has turned the modern world upside-down, so it is and will be the biggest news story for the foreseeable future. As our respondents showed us, that reality means that when piecing together news coverage, reporters and their sources would do well to consider how their stories fit into the current situation and/or a future world altered by the pandemic.
At Antenna, our work over the last six weeks or so has also revealed a few patterns about how the news is coming together during this time of crisis. The pandemic dominates the news, and that’s doubly true for top-tier media outlets: The New York Times, CNN, BBC and others are all-COVID all the time, and have reassigned reporters to help cover every angle. For companies and PR pros looking to place stories in those outlets, a connection to the global health crisis is a must, at least for now.
As our survey indicated, there are some opportunities to place non-pandemic stories in trades or other specialty publications. In those cases, however, an understanding and acknowledgment of how the crisis is affecting the company, technology and/or industry in question is still a requirement. More than ever, careful consideration of each reporter’s beat and current interests is an essential professional courtesy and the most important factor in successfully placing your story.
Finally, a HUGE Antenna thank-you to all of the reporters who responded to our survey for your time and insights! Thanks also to all the journalists working hard to bring facts and stories to the masses while facing unprecedented challenges. Keep up your important work, and we’ll keep striving to be your supportive partners.