Fresh eyes

Understanding shifting news agendas

Joel Durkin

Written by Joel Durkin,
Senior PR & Communications Manager at Freshfield

During high-profile global events such as the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic or Brexit, news agendas can change quickly and significantly.

This presents challenges for companies looking to engage with journalists and the media.

Here are some tips on how you should (and shouldn’t) react to the changing media agendas.

DO – Review your media and content plan

As a significant global event breaks, there is a rush for information. It’s human nature to want to be informed as much as possible about anything that’s new and unfamiliar.

Think of Brexit, or even a snap general election. People want guidance and advice about how different possibilities could affect both their personal and professional life.

It’s important to understand where your company fits into this. Are you an expert? Can you offer thought leadership on your industry? Have you been particularly affected, and therefore want to share your experiences with others?

Thinking about this will help you to develop an appropriate content strategy and understand who your key spokespeople are.

DON’T – Be too slow to react

In recent weeks there has been some excellent guidance from the business and financial advisory community to help business understand each of the new measures introduced by the government. This has often been available almost immediately after the announcements.

In a crisis, government announcements (and the media opportunities to provide guidance about them) become old news fast as the story continues to develop. Keep an eye on the news to understand what is expected, ready your experts and publish relevant content quickly.

DO – Communicate with journalists and understand their situation

Media priorities change as a global crisis develops in response to the rush for information. Business media in particular are likely to be bombarded by news releases and comments and it’s their job to find what’s relevant and newsworthy.

At times like this, journalists will appreciate your courtesy call asking if there are particular areas they are looking for comment on much more than they would a follow up to your news release asking why it wasn’t published.

A unique aspect of the coronavirus situation is how it has affected the professional and personal lives of almost everyone in the UK, media included.

Keeping a dialogue open with relevant media publications will also help you understand journalists’ situation: Is the newsroom number you have still being monitored? Are the contacts you have working at the moment? Has the current situation affected publications deadlines and has that meant the best time to send a story has changed?

DON’T – Appear to be capitalising from the situation

Be sensitive to the situation people are facing. For example, many companies supplying medical equipment are likely to have seen strong sales on the back of coronavirus but rushing to tell the world about their growth would appear to be profiting from a situation causing distress to millions.

Being insensitive to a crisis is likely to reflect poorly on your company and could make for a PR disaster. In these situations, common sense prevails.

DO – Prepare your spokespeople

If an expert is offering comment on a specific business area of a crisis in an interview, they need to be fully briefed. For example, a HR professional offering guidance about staff issues during coronavirus should expect questions on everything from furlough guidance to social distancing measures.

If they are not prepared, they will appear incompetent.

There’s more guidance about this in our blog Communicating in a crisis: How to prepare for a media interview.

DON’T – Forget the human angle

It’s easy to get drawn into constantly commenting or advising on the business angle of a developing situation or crisis but is there a more human story you’re missing?

In a period of negativity, positive people-focused stories can provide something different. Has your company done something unique to help people through the situation? Have you gone above and beyond to help your staff? It could be a great time to share that news.

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