One question we are getting a lot right now from clients is this: is there any appetite at all for non-COVID-19 stories in the news media? The pandemic is the focus for almost every company and organisation on the planet. However, by the same token, there are still many interesting initiatives going on inside those institutions that at any other time would be highly newsworthy. But how do companies tell the stories that underpin their business initiatives strategically when they aren’t about coronavirus? And is it even appropriate to talk to the outside world about them?
One look at the website of the main news outlets shows they are heavily COVID-19 dominated. However, there are other stories getting a look in. For example, the BBC website is featuring long reads on its homepage about fascinating personal stories from people’s lives – things that have a universal interest. The results of long running court proceedings that began before we had even heard of the coronavirus are also being covered. Crime, royal stories, and other staples are too.
However, they are in the minority. So, it’s a valid question to ask - is it a good idea to contact journalists about a non-coronavirus story when we are still far from sure when the pandemic will end? We spoke to many journalists across our global network and asked them just that. Here’s a selection of what they told us:
“Yes, there is room for non-Coronavirus stories during this pandemic, though the bar would be higher. I believe not all of the economy stops during a pandemic, and non-Coronavirus news gives people hope as there are economic activities as usual”.
Deal Reporter at a Foreign Newswire, Japan
“Before, it was all about Brexit and Trump, now all about corona. Still, I believe many readers are in the market for alternative stories to the big issue of the moment and are up for other stories.”
Senior Journalist at a Major Global Newswire, UK
“All people are hungry for now is news on the virus, they don’t want media to lecture them on what to do. They want the truth, scientific facts and more news. Our working from home/distance learning stories tend to do well right now, but for how long can you do the same thing? We are struggling to keep our outlets alive”.
National News Editor, UAE
“Corona beats everything right now. How could it be otherwise, when the crisis has taken such hold of all our lives? Especially in serious times, readers expect relevance. That's what we try to deliver without panicking.”
Business Editor at a National Newspaper, Germany
“Press releases are not working out for us right now. People are interested to know what companies are doing in light of this situation to help their employees and give back. We are making use of our online outlets and bringing together businesses to speak about their work. Our numbers are changing online and we’re getting more movement”.
Business News Director, UAE
“Since guests are not allowed in studio anymore and we can’t go film outside the studio, the program grid has obviously changed and now 80% of the programs and topics revolve around COVID -19, we’ve actually added a program called Covid19.”
Television Producer, UAE
“I think it is hard for us to pitch stories that are not directly linked to the coronavirus outbreak to editors at this moment unless they are really important or scoops. So, companies should wait until things calm down for making announcements or any news should be linked to the virus.”
Finance Reporter at a Foreign Newswire, Japan
“The bar for stories has definitely been raised. Huge profit warnings or restructurings hardly merit a mention, unless in a strategic industry. In this maelstrom of news, every story has to speak to something wider; illustrate a trend, or a unique approach to the crisis. That said, there is scope for the unusual and unexpected stories. Innovation, whether by small family-owned firms of multinationals, is interesting, as are tales that provide an insight into the post-Corona world.”
Correspondent at the Financial Times, Germany
“The Covid-19 outbreak has seen my focus shifting away from breaking news on large corporates including mergers and acquisitions or management board reshuffles to how companies are dealing with the crisis. We’re mostly chasing stories on companies looking into securing liquidity via fresh credit lines or through government-led bailouts, be it with equity or loans provided by state-owned lenders.”
Reporter based in Frankfurt, Germany
“No doubt that a lot of the news now is about COVID -19, but we still publish some Ramadan related news as it’s approaching, and also cover program and movie releases, since people are staying at home and watching more TV. We are also publishing some stories related to staying home like new home-friendly apps, ways to take advantage of your stay at home...etc.”.
Business and Lifestyle Reporter, UAE
It seems there are several lessons from these comments we can take away:
- Journalists are almost exclusively looking at the world through a COVID-19 lens.
- The bar is higher for non-COVID stories than it was.
- However, it isn’t the case that it is inappropriate to contact a journalist about non-coronavirus stories. There is still room for big stories, or unusual and unexpected ones.
- You stand a better chance if your story is relevant to a local audience for cultural or religious reasons.
- Journalists are concerned the lack of face-to-face interaction with interviewees is taking away a lot of the colour of their product. Try to offer them that colour somehow in a different way – perhaps by proactively giving the journalist some more personal context about your interviewee that might otherwise have come across in a face-to-face interaction.
So, while it is true that stories about coronavirus currently rule the content calendars for many publications, there is still room for other non-COVID stories, as long as companies are smart about how they communicate.
The pandemic has made strategic, long-term communications planning a crucial step to any corporate business plan. Taking a step back and understanding what the company wants to say, and how they want to say it, can make the difference when producing an impactful strategy.
COVID-19 will continue to take over the news agenda for the foreseeable future. And sharing company news will be more difficult. But there is still space to be heard, and as our network of journalists tells us, media relations activities should not stop. The crucial step here is to build these activities into a wider, long-term plan, and approach every step forward through a strategic lens. These strategic decisions have always been important, but will serve to create effective external communications, now more than ever.