Media Relations During a Pandemic

February 10, 2021

The crisis
Like its impact on the broader population, COVID-19’s effects on news organizations have been uneven and disproportionate. The pandemic has forced many news organizations to furlough or lay off workers, while others have been sold or shut down. But for some, this has been a time of unprecedented growth. Some outlets have experimented with new ways of delivering content through newsletters or video. Others, to compensate for falling advertising revenue, have leaned into subscription services.

Who is the best fit?
Before pitching stories about research, programs, or students, take time to dig into what reporters have been writing about. Bring them something they value, and the effort will pay off by helping you fulfill your goals.

Also, keep in mind that your communications with journalists should be strategic. Make sure they are timely, keep them short, and respond promptly to questions and inquiries. With news moving at breakneck speed, take advantage of opportunities quickly and efficiently.

What might work?
During the pandemic—not to mention all the other big events of the past year—space for non-timely stories may shrink as you approach the top-tier outlets. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t place stories unrelated to COVID. But you need to keep on top of what journalists are doing and look for trends in coverage. For instance, got two back-to-back requests about employment? Maybe there’s an opportunity to do an Expert Alert or a pitch. However ...

Tone deafness
… avoid being tone deaf, especially in the science space. Many general science reporters are strictly COVID-19 these days. Others, while they have some flexibility, may still do COVID-19 a majority of the time. Continually sending pitches to reporters who aren’t covering the subject matter you had in mind could lead to you being ignored and, down the line, your emails being summarily deleted.

Build relationships
Remember that journalists have their own COVID-19 struggles, such as cutbacks in hours or salary, or personal issues. So be kind and understanding when reaching out. Refrain from sending back-to-back pitches to the same reporter. When in doubt, ask what types of stories they want to cover. All this will help build relationships that could last long into the future.

Questions? Reach out to University Public Relations at unews@umn.edu.