Five ways the way we engage with media has changed since 2020

It’s no secret that the last year and a half has brought about a tremendous amount of change, both in our daily lives and in the way we do business. In the public relations world, we’re seeing some common themes as we engage with media contacts. We’re sharing five examples on how those practicing PR can keep up with changing best practices. 

There are more busy news days. 

In October, I wrote a blog post on this very topic – no slow news days and how to place stories when breaking news doesn’t stop– and since then, things have not slowed down one bit. When clients used to ask for guidance on when to distribute a press release or hold an event to optimize coverage or attendance, our response pre-2020 was usually to avoid Fridays or late afternoons. Now, it is honestly anybody’s guess because breaking news is happening so frequently. Because there is so much breaking news, we’ve also seen that the priority has naturally shifted as far as what gets coverage. Something that may have been considered an easy win two years ago is hard fought for coverage now. 

The takeaway? As PR practitioners, it’s our job to pay attention to the news cycle and use our best judgment on when to start and stop pitching as it relates to other local or national events. The do it for them approach to pitching is even more important – a well-packaged idea with angle, visuals and interview availability will get much more traction than a half-baked idea or a follow up to a story that already has been covered.

Schedules are tricker than ever. 

Everyone is juggling, and there is a lot happening behind the scenes. We’ve found ourselves more frequently needing to look further out for interview dates for a story or getting no-shows for virtual events when reporters have RSVPed yes. And that’s not to call anyone out – we feel it on our side, too. Everything feels like a lot right now.

The takeaway? Managing client expectations, while always important at an agency, has come even more into play since 2020. Be realistic about what clients might see for results of a virtual or in-person event, or how long a placement might take to come to life.

Product sampling is more limited. 

We do a fair amount of product sampling for our consumer clients, some of which requires recipients to be home to provide a signature for delivery. While we always try to check with contacts on any dates when they won’t be home before shipping, we’re seeing more and more shipping exceptions where we have to coordinate with contacts on creative solutions, like getting FedEx packages held at a nearby Walgreen’s. We’re also hearing more from contacts who simply aren’t accepting packages for the time being, whether because they’re backed up with too many samples already or working from home, and it’s not a convenient place to store them.

The takeaway? Don’t give up on product sampling, but don’t push too hard if it is clear someone doesn’t have the physical (or mental space) to accept one more thing right now. If we hear from someone it’s not a good time, we’ll make a note for a few months out to check in. Often when we revisit the contact, they’re appreciative of us not forgetting them, and sometimes their situation has changed where that sample they couldn’t take before, they would love now.

Preferred communication styles are changing. 

In 2020, everything went virtual at the drop of a hat. Then, people started dipping their toes back into in-person events and now the pull-back is happening again as conversations of variants and boosters are in the news. We projected this so-called dance early in the pandemic, with comfort levels understandably changing day by day based on the latest news and reports. Eighteen months in, those virtual events that might have seemed really cool in 2020 have now lost some luster. A lot of people are simply tired of being on video and don’t want to be called out for joining a mostly video call by phone – maybe they are juggling childcare with a work meeting,or maybe they simply aren’t camera-ready that day. When I’m working with media contacts on something related to breaking news, I often ask if they would prefer to text because it can be faster than a lot of email back and forth. The answer is usually yes.

The takeaway? Meet your media contacts where they are. If you’re setting up a conversation or event, ask if they would prefer to be on video or phone, or for an interview, maybe they’d like to simply send questions via email and follow up if needed. Just asking what the best way to stay in touch is usually appreciated. 

Breaking through the clutter requires even more persistence and research. 

Our team has always talked about the importance of individualizing outreach and making sure pitches are relevant, and it is even more important now. There’s no shortage of news these days and even a good pitch can easily fall through the cracks.

The takeaway? Keep pitches short and sweet and use a super clean subject line so your contacts know exactly why are reaching out to them. Don’t follow up on a story that has already run asking for your client to be included.

Media relations isn’t a lost cause right now, but those in the PR profession would be silly to still be acting like it’s a pre-2020 world out there. 

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Megan Irvin

Megan spends her days doing media relations, community relations, content creation and events for clients like Kroger Mid-Atlantic, Virginia Distillery Company and Mercy Chefs. Her favorite part of her job is working with clients and providing strategic counsel — and garnering media attention for clients in outlets like TODAY, Esquire, USA Today and Bon Appetit.

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