Communicating with the Communicator

The COVID-19 pandemic is changing the way we consume media and entertainment (M&E). As physical distancing norms and lockdown being enforced most of us confined to our homes, and now for most of us our social lives is dependent on the what we get digitally and entertainment consumption has risen notably within the at-home segments of television, online gaming and over-the-top (OTT). According to a report released by Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) India and Nielsen on the impact of COVID-19 on television and digital media behaviour across India, users are spending 1.4 hours a day more on their smartphone devices with the biggest jump coming from users in the 35-44-year age group.

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It’s strange that while we are consuming more media, what is also making news is blood bath in the Indian media world. The dynamic news media industry of India, has been one of the worst hit by the unprecedented economic standstill brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic. One of the key reason for this was the disruption in circulation of newspapers and advertisers scaling back spending, all forcing the media houses to take drastic steps — from closure of editions to shutting publications / editions to stopping printing and of course the salary cuts, lay-offs, furloughs and more.

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With the media landscape drastically changing during these unprecedent times of Covid-19 outbreak, times are really tough for the journalists who are hard pressed to perform their duties under challenging circumstances and may have limited time to discuss in detail with PR professionals. So what may we as professionals in the business of Public Relations do in these times:Time is important. Like most professionals, journalists are working with limited resources and we need to respect their time now more. Brief, crisp and to the point is the norm and this should be adhered to or else you may miss the plot.

  • Connect with a journalist only if you have a relevant and critical information to share. Respect the journalists time lines and also the lead time. Inform and update on case of delays and avoid to “buy” time if you not sure.
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  • Covid-19 pandemic is the most relevant topic, but if there is no direct association, don’t try and make one – maintain social distancing – even in the stories. Share knowledge but in a positive way and not be seen trying to take advantage of this unfortunate situation. Please don’t force fit your story. Be sensitive towards the reality of the situation and also about the client’s reputation.
  • Research – Research – Research. As a rule, before pitching to any journalist do your homework. Research on the journalist, the publication’s audience and then only pitch a story if it’s relevant right now. Ensure that you have read something they’ve covered and the sector/beat they’re mainly writing about.
  • Check journalist’s social media profiles (if available) on the topical issue they are engaged in, before you pitch them. Respect the journalists view and learn from the few who express insensitive PR pitch around Covid-19. Remember access to email id, phone number doesn’t give one the right to pitch a story or share information. Please research and find out the status of the publication and employment of the journalist before the call/email.
  • Information and timing are critical so have important facts and figures ready and to answer the journalist queries. Be Crip & Short and ensure every interaction adds value to the journalist’s story or research.
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  • Now with partial “un-lock” the media is keen to know what corporates / brands are doing innovatively for their employees and end customers to ensure continuity of operations. While pitching for a story unrelated to the current challenges be certain that the readers/viewers will find that relevant and give attention to. Only share relevant aspect of your client’s business that could play a role in the story.
  • Personalise your pitch by doing some research on the journalist and publication. Avoid copy paste of the same pitches and don’t overuse the words ‘URGENT’, ‘BREAKING NEWS’, or ‘TIME SENSITIVE’ in your subject line
  • Avoid mass (bcc) mailing to the media list and mass-forwards (broadcast) on Whatsapp, SMS. Don’t forget to proof-read before you send.
  • Be sensitive to journalist’s privacy and timings while sending text on Whatsapp, Telegram or SMS. Remember, your urgency might not be a priority for the journalist as they have their own editorial calendar and timelines to follow.

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Anup Sharma (@TweetsAnup)
The author is a StoryTeller with two decades of experience in Public Relations and Corporate Communications. He is also the Senior Director at Public Relations Consultants Association of India.

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