This article, written by Carmichael Lynch Relate director of media relations Régine Labossière, originally appeared in the Minnesota PRSA’s Perspectives blog.
Like nearly everything else in the PR business, media relations has been dramatically altered by the pandemic and continues to be, as sentiment over in-person activity changes with every drop and rise in infection rates and with each new variant.
All events were canceled or moved to virtual, journalists mostly worked remotely and opportunities to meet in person with journalists vanished from our calendars. We had to embrace new ways of reaching reporters and editors, putting new emphasis on social media and thinking creatively about how to capture media attention. Everything was upended.
As people filter back into the workplace with a somewhat regular schedule and public gatherings take off again, our media relations team has been thinking about which industry practices will come back and which ones have been changed forever. While the return of in-person chats and coffee meetings has been helpful for relationship-building, I’m also aware that many of the pivots we made over the past two years have sharpened our skills. In reaching the media, we have more approaches and options in our toolkit than ever before.
So what’s changed? And what hasn’t? Here’s a partial list.
In-person events are back … or are they?
Early in the pandemic, it quickly became clear that in-person events weren’t happening. Everything went virtual. But in the past year, people have begun to feel safer, eager to attend in-person events (even if it required a mask) or become willing to travel for a special launch or trade show. As viral variants like Delta and Omicron cast momentary shadows and then recede, the smart money is on arranging events but having a Plan B. People want to attend events in-person, but media event planners need to have a backup—plus options for journalists who want to attend virtually.
Virtual meetings are here to stay.
You can keep your camera off if you prefer, but forget about deleting Teams or Zoom from your devices. Virtual connections with the media have been normalized. In fact, they can be useful in reaching writers and editors, especially as many have moved away from New York City. Face-to-face chats will always strengthen ties, of course, but virtual conversations will remain an acceptable alternative.
Relationship-building is more vital than ever.
Among other things, the past two years have underscored the importance of building strong relationships with members of the media. I didn’t fully realize the value of talking with a reporter over a latte until I couldn’t do it anymore. And it’s the journalists I’ve met in person or have had quality virtual conversation with who returned my calls and quickly responded to my emails even as life has rapidly evolved the past two years. Relationships continue to keep us in business.
We’re all human.
The thing about a global pandemic is … well, it’s global. Everyone has been impacted by the quarantines, school closings at a moment’s notice and COVID-related sick days and cancellations. With everyone in the same boat, we took the time to ask how people were doing—even the ones we hardly knew. I hope we won’t forget that. Let’s not stop asking about well-being. Let’s not forget that reporters are affected by the events they cover and that editors can experience burnout. Let’s take the time to sympathize and empathize. Reach out and share positive feedback on a story someone wrote. Or email just to say “hi”—without expectations.
I’m eager to see our work and personal disruptions to this pandemic end. But “returning to normal” can’t mean dropping everything we’ve learned in recent years. Change has been a challenge, but it has also made us better, bolder and stronger.