As people continue to socially distance, they’re seeking to connect with each other and brands more than ever.
Michael Kaye, global communications manager for OKCupid, says the amount of the platform’s members reporting that they’ve gone on a virtual date rose 473% in April, compared with March—and the trend is still growing.
“People are also messaging each other more than at the beginning of the pandemic,” says Kaye. “There was a 4% increase in intro-messages sent among people on OkCupid around the world in April compared to March—and the amount of replies coming from women in the United States are up 12% in the last week alone (10% increase among all users in the U.S.).”
Those numbers—along with the stories behind them—can create an attractive story for a journalist, netting your organization media coverage despite headlines being dominated by COVID-19 news and information. Yet, successfully navigating media relations efforts during this time of uncertainty requires communications savvy.
Consider these tips as you seek to break through the noise:
1. Lean on data to tell your stories.
“At the core, all communication and media professionals are storytellers,” Kaye says. “Data and research are some of the best resources we have, but they’re not the be-all and end-all. Data are simply numbers on a computer screen, and it’s our job to craft a story from those insights.”
OKCupid asks its members a plethora of questions to match them with others, including political views, favorite shows to binge watch and what they think of social issues. Those answers create insights ripe for story angles.
As the coronavirus outbreak began, we launched a new series of questions related to dating digitally and virtually, which have already received about 1.5 million responses (and counting). These new questions include everything from “What’s your ideal virtual date?” to “What dating habit will you keep after the coronavirus lockdown ends?”
You don’t have to send hundreds or thousands of survey questions to get data that supports storytelling effort. Kaye suggests mixing data directly from your organization with third-party sources, and then digging through the numbers to spot trends and interesting changes, which can become “compelling narratives your numbers support.”
Don’t only share this data in a press release, either. “It can be through a media pitch, but an integrated approach is best,” Kaye says. “Lean on creative assets and share them on your owned social channels for maximized exposure.”
2. Listen to your stakeholders and adapt your efforts to support them.
Leaning on data—whether through social listening and trend research or surveys sent to customers and employees—can help you offer stories and angles that stand out. It can also help you better engage with and support your community throughout the crisis.
As we continuously add in new questions, most recently about what people are binge-watching and if they’ll be attending a virtual Pride event, the responses tell a story of what our daters care about, helping us create a better experience for them on our platform and helping us match them with people we think they’re most compatible with.
One of the ways OKCupid offered a tailored experience during COVID-19 is by encouraging members to update their dating profiles’ distance preference to “anywhere” to better connect with potential matches around their state—as well as across the nation or world.
PR pros should also take care to adjust their language and messages as they continue to engage with their stakeholders. For OKCupid, this meant swapping any mention of “meeting” with “connecting,” to encourage members to stay at home.
“When a situation like this current pandemic arises, you need to carefully analyze all the language you are communicating to consumers,” Kaye says. “This goes beyond pitches or press releases and includes all content on social media, even the notifications you are sending users in your mobile app or through email.”
This stakeholder-centric approach is not just good business and branding—it’s also a way to potentially boost media coverage, as consumers and reporters take note of your efforts and relay kudos.
3. Tailor your stories to the reporter (and the news outlet).
Though Kaye says there isn’t “one fix” for pivoting storytelling efforts to align with COVID-19 coverage, PR pros should start by making sure the content pitched is “hyper-relevant to the times.”
The first thing to do is be extremely mindful of and sensitive to the world we’re living in. I have found success in asking reporters what they need, and asking how I can be a resource to them. There are some journalists who are really interested in brand insights and trends related to the pandemic, others looking for coronavirus-adjacent stories, and then people whose editors are telling them that coronavirus coverage is too saturated already.
That might mean pitching to different news media outlets or teaming up with bloggers and content creators on stories such as digital date ideas or ways to enhance your Zoom backgrounds.
4. Remember that journalists are under pressure, too.
A media relations best practice is to build long-term relationships with journalists and connect with them outside of your pitches. Doing so is crucial now that newsrooms are shrinking—and journalists are experiencing high workloads alongside feelings of isolation.
Kaye suggests reaching out to the reporters with whom you’ve built a rapport to check in and ask how you can be helpful during the crisis.
Offer them something not only that your competitors can’t, but something you haven’t offered to anybody else. I never mass-pitch stories. Instead, I collaborate with journalists one-on-one to help tell a story that’s mutually beneficial for our brand and their readers.
Above all, remember that reporters are experiencing the effects of the crisis, too.
“We have to first remember that just as our lives were turned upside down, so were the lives of all the journalists we’re pitching, especially freelance writers,” Kaye says. “As they adjust to readers’ expectations and even more demanding deadlines, they are now working with 24-hour to 72-hour turnaround times for stories, so breaking through the noise is as important—and challenging—as ever before as they try to manage hundred of inbound pitches per day.”
You can learn more from Kaye, along with speakers from CBS News, Edelman, Microsoft, Southwest Airlines, U.S. Bank, Paine Publishing, AMEC, Twitter, Consumer Reports and more by checking out Ragan Training, our online video training portal.