Earned Media in the Era of COVID-19

August 19, 2020
By iQ Staff
Illustration of a figure emerging from a laptop holding a microphone, with multimedia icons.

The current pandemic is altering the media industry in extreme ways. Waves of reporter layoffs have been executed around the country as many media outlets struggle to survive the current economy. Many reporters have also had to refocus their areas of coverage to address our new normal: non-stop COVID information, working from home, juggling kids, caring for aging parents, and following social distancing protocols.

Despite the challenges pitching stories to fewer reporters, it is actually a good time to focus on earned media. Paid content and native ad budgets are shrinking, and consumers are craving unbiased third-party information. Quality journalists are still looking for information, sources and stories.

Here’s how you can maintain your earned media momentum.


Track Your Contacts

Given all the movement in the media industry right now, it is wise to establish a connection with your reporter contacts outside of their publication email address. More often than not, PR folks learn of media layoffs and furloughs because we follow journalists on Twitter. Reporters will often update their Twitter followers on their status and how to find them because they want to be reachable. They may end up at another publication covering the same topic, or take up freelance work, in which case they may still be interested in receiving pitch ideas.

LinkedIn is another great way to track journalists. Some of them may be interested in connecting, so it is definitely worth reaching out and sending a connection request with a note. If that doesn’t work, you can still follow them and read their latest pieces or get a sense of their network and the broader themes that may influence their work.


Work with Freelancers

If you are not already in contact with freelance journalists covering the topics that matter to your clients, now is the time to start. Freelancers have always been vital to successful earned media campaigns, and that is true now more than ever. Many high-profile media outlets are relying on freelance journalists to write the stories that their shrinking staffs cannot, and many talented writers are embracing freelancing as full time positions are eliminated. Freelancers represent a whole additional pitch audience when the people on the masthead are simply stretched too thin to respond to pitches.

Freelancers may have more leeway to pursue topics and angles that they couldn’t when they were beholden to their former editors and publishers at a particular outlet. This could mean focusing on completely different subject matters, but it might also mean taking a deep dive and writing longer pieces about something that is near and dear. All of that being said, it is still imperative to be mindful of the current environment and what readers care about right now. Freelancers still have to pitch their stories to editors.


“Now is the time to double down on earned media and continue to cultivate those reporter relationships.”


Craft Your Pitch

When composing a pitch in this current environment, think about readership from the perspective of the media outlet, whom you are trying to reach, and why those people would care about your story TODAY. Research consistent themes running through trending stories and consider them when crafting your pitch.

For example, a piece about how to pack a wrinkle-free suitcase is probably not going to be very clickable right now because the average person isn’t going on a big trip anytime soon. However, a pitch focused on entertaining kids during a rainy staycation, or which international museums have the best virtual tours might be the type of travel-adjacent angle that “has legs,” as they say.

So many of us, journalists included, are on edge worrying about our health, our future, and our families. Proceed with caution, empathy and patience when approaching reporters who may be swamped trying to keep up with breaking news. Strive to make a reporter’s life easier by handling scheduling or call-in-details, bundling spokespeople where possible or appropriate, and getting to the point quickly with your pitches.


The Takeaway

Now is the time to double down on earned media and continue to cultivate those reporter relationships. Tracking journalists via platforms such as Twitter and LinkedIn will give you an edge when it comes to doing your homework and keeping up with changes at media outlets.