Amidst Rising Tides, PR Remains the Same Surfboard on a Different Wave

by Shannon Walsh

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has captured national attention longer than any health news story over the last century. For months, the airways of leading broadcast outlets and the pages of top-tier newspapers have been dominated with stories of rising disease incidence rates, the significant human toll, and daily debates over evolving public health recommendations. Promotional advertising is littered with face masks and messages of encouragement from major companies. Every brand is dedicating its social channels to thanking essential workers, particularly those in frontline healthcare.

This near-exclusive focus on COVID-19 dominating the news cycles has raised the threshold for capturing media interest in health stories outside the coronavirus realm, especially news about wellness and consumer awareness of other diseases. Gone are the days of pushing news to reporters. In this moment, it seems that pharmaceutical and healthcare companies need to have a point of view regarding where they fit into this current cultural climate.

In this moment, it seems that pharmaceutical and healthcare companies need to have a point of view regarding where they fit into this current cultural climate.

Gaining media attention in this environment, however, is not impossible. There are opportunities. During these months in quarantine, we have seen some of our most strategic media relations and positioning work, navigating several of our clients through important clinical milestones and regulatory approvals while pivoting launches to reflect the new reality. Recently, for example, we counseled a client to shift the focus of a migraine education campaign away from “Migraine Awareness Month” and instead move toward underscoring stress as a migraine trigger in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic.

As with any other communications discipline, public relations is about understanding what our clients stand for and then demonstrating that position through effective messaging backed by real action. Navigating this new media environment shouldn’t feel overwhelming because despite the rising tides of change, PR principles hold true – it’s the same surfboard, just a different wave: 

Don’t be tone deaf

Timing is everything. Don’t be overly anxious to get in the news cycle that you waste your opportunity and hurt your reputation.

Get your story right

Research and monitor the news to identify relevant opportunities. Make sure your pitch matches the editorial focus and package your story with offerings that could strengthen appeal. Use the right supporting points – from patient stories to creative collateral such as video and graphics – to stand out next to the voluminous competitive noise.

Prepare spokespeople to be credible ambassadors

Whether you use a company expert, an external opinion leader, or a patient, anyone put in front of the news needs to understand the sensitivities of the media environment. That way, he or she can effectively share valuable insights while credibly delivering your messages.

Remain nimble

Effective media relations is about seizing opportunities as they arise, especially when our clients have a significant story to tell.

Cultivate relationships

Even during this pandemic, it is critical to stay in touch with reporters regularly. A quick check-in note – whether to congratulate them on a recent story or provide them information on a similar story of interest – is important to remain on their radar and to be viewed as a valued resource.

Interested in seeing the kind of public health pieces that are part of this COVID-19 dominated news cycle? Check out our #WearAMaskNY PSA.