Pitching to media during a global pandemic

Cait Dacey
Written by Cait Dacey

Tags: communications coverage leadership Media News PR public relations

The PR industry has evolved a great deal over time, with the original focus solely on securing coverage, to adapting broad offerings, much like the services offered at Stand – including digital, strategy, insight and creative. However, while excelling in these areas, it’s still important that agencies deliver outstanding results when it comes to coverage. Getting news in the paper, online and on the TV and radio may be harder on some days than others, but once you understand what makes a story, and you push your team in that direction, coverage should follow – right?

Well, in the last two months since the UK went into lockdown, our media creds at Stand have been tested like never before. The landscape has changed rapidly – where journalists may have previously covered specific topics, now many are working across a wide range of stories. Staff at media outlets have been furloughed, and you may have thought that getting someone on the phone was difficult in January, but now it’s near impossible, with a large proportion of the UK workforce working-from-home (journalists included).

This has proved to be an interesting time to be a member of the PR industry. Anyone who knows me will also know I love a challenge and am lucky to be surrounded by colleagues who do too.

Through trial and error, we’ve worked out a few top tips that have helped us to attain superb results, even during a global pandemic:

  1. Keep adapting

As members of the PR industry, we know what truly makes a story, but in the current landscape the first package of content might not always work. Don’t be afraid to strip back your pitch to the seed of the idea, if it doesn’t work the first time around. Adapt the angle, who you’re pitching to, the type of story you’re trying to secure – be it a news article, interview or opinion piece.

  1. Call the news desks

Calling the news desk in a normal climate wouldn’t be the go-to telephone line. However, with fewer staff in the office it’s currently one of the only numbers that gets answered. We’ve found the news desk line to be a huge help during lockdown, as even if they aren’t the right people to speak to, they will almost always point you in the direction of someone who’ll be interested in your piece.

  1. Newsjacking

The media landscape is moving rapidly during the pandemic. Even if you can’t get your client mentioned in breaking announcements, it’s always worth contacting the journalist who wrote about the topic to set up an interview with your spokesperson. Their interest in the subject matter and the expertise of your client could mean that a follow up piece on the subject is a possibility.

  1. Communication is key

At Stand, we’ve increased the communication between our client teams during lockdown. This has included setting up a media-specific internal channel that allows us to share insights from sell ins, as well as allowing team members to cross-sell stories, so we aren’t clogging up journalists’ inboxes.

  1. To mention or not to mention?

A large sector of the news currently being published is understandably focused on Covid-19. We’ve found that if you’re going out with a story, you need to be clear on whether your news is Covid-19 related or not. If you have a story to tell that’s in the public interest and relevant to the pandemic, don’t hold back on soft messaging. However, it’s important to resist shoehorning a mention to the crisis in if it isn’t relevant – news outlets also want positive news!

It can be difficult to get the balance right, but when you do, it really works. Our team working on Anchor Hanover, secured 293 pieces of coverage to celebrate VE Day, which looked at how care homes were commemorating the occasion during lockdown. Amongst the hundreds of pieces, the story was covered by outlets including ITV, BBC, Daily Express, Yahoo! and The Telegraph.

On either side of the spectrum, it’s imperative that the story is authentic. If your client is making positive change, or taking a stand, it has to be meaningful and not just a token gesture.


  1. Working relationships

Prior to the pandemic, our working relationships with journalists were incredibly important and in the midst of pandemic disruption we’ve seen these become even more highly valued. Having already built these relationships, journalists know they can come to us for dependable and insightful content, and when teams are smaller than ever, knowing they can rely on our agency has resulted in brilliant coverage. A great example of this is a recent piece on BBC R4 which featured our client, Dimensions, in a segment about the impact of Covid-19 on people with learning disabilities.

  1. Trust your gut

Fundamentally, you always need to trust your gut when it comes to getting coverage, even during a global pandemic. You get a feeling in the pit of your stomach when you know you have a good story on your hands. Even if it takes a little longer than usual, don’t be afraid to keep pushing the narrative when you know it’s got legs. On the other hand, if a story isn’t working, and you know in the back of your mind that it’s not quite strong enough, don’t be afraid to go back to the drawing board.

Whether you’re in PR, journalism or any other sector, we are all weathering the same storm and ironing out ways to adapt to the ‘new normal’. But, if you have an authentic and interesting story to tell, there will always be someone to listen.



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