News & Views

Positive Approaches to PR During Coronavirus

PR during the coronavirus situation is difficult, for sure. Updates on coronavirus seem to be non-stop, and sites like the WHO and CDC should be your go-to for crisis media updates. Yes, it’s not getting better just yet, but that doesn’t mean travel won’t resume again in the future, and destinations need to be prepared.

For marketers, we wanted to give you an idea of what’s going in the media world. We’ve monitored how press trips and any media travel has stopped because of coronavirus scares and, most recently, the U.S.’s ban on travel from Europe and Canada.

It all seems topsy turvy, but rest assured, the media is still working full-time to make sure everyone knows that life will continue after the situation settles. Even if the future looks different, we’ll be traveling and enjoying destinations again.

Let’s take a look at how you should be thinking about maintaining relationships with journalists, and possibly building new ones, despite coronavirus. These four steps are just the beginning, but they are a very good place to start.

Take the local road

First, the reality is that coverage is slowing. A lot of media outlets are pausing coverage on Europe and Asia. Why? Simply put, people won’t be traveling en masse over the next few weeks, or even months, so outlets are going to be sending their own writers abroad out of fear but also because, quite frankly, the coverage won’t be interesting now. Let’s take a breath and let things settle. The result for destinations? Press trips will be canceled, international coverage will be scant, and marketers will have to rethink how we present destinations in the future – just imagine the recuperation efforts that will be needed in Italy!

The good news, however, is that when Hearst or Condé Nast closes a door, the internet opens a window. While international coverage will take a dive, local travel and cultural coverage are likely to rise. Fodor’s, for example, is focusing on round-up stories that can be localized. Consider a quarantine, even if self-imposed, as a sort of staycation, with a focus on nature activities. The media can play into this to promote local experiences, especially in places where coronavirus isn’t rampant. There are still plenty of PR possibilities, we just need to take a different approach temporarily.

Tap the network in your backyard

Let’s build on the previous point a bit more and talk about people. While your destination may be seeking international coverage, the fact is you just might not get it now. With flights canceled, quarantines in effect, and general fear pervading society, we don’t need to focus on a market that’s largely on pause. The local market, however, will still exist, and you have writers in your own backyard who may be able to help your PR during the coronavirus crisis.

So, while you may be looking towards more localized stories, use the opportunity to create a new network of journalists and influencers if you haven’t yet. Get to know your local writers and content creators who can help tell these local stories. After the pandemic passes, you’ll have a whole new set of people to tap into for potential coverage in the future. As international travel resumes, you’ll have effectively doubled your marketing potential. Consider it an investment in the future.

Organize remote desksides

While international travel has slowed, so has travel to the office. Many offices around North America including Buzzfeed and CNN, are encouraging or even requiring staffers to stay home and work remotely. It may be an overly cautious step to help contain the virus by avoiding public transportation and busy business centers, but caution may be what we need right now. What does this mean for marketing efforts? No deskside appointments, no coffee chats, and no media visits. PR during the coronavirus sounds bleak, right?

Well, maybe not. Just because we can’t meet face to face with writers doesn’t mean we can’t meet with them at all. Marketing efforts simply need to circumvent these hurdles and find other ways to connect with journalists. Telephone calls and video chats are still very much viable means of communications, and you can bet that a few isolated writers working from home may be more than hungry for some human contact in the coming days. Reach out, propose a virtual deskside, and show that your destination won’t cease to be promoted just yet. You want to avoid radio silence as much as possible and instead keep your destination active and at the top of the list when the tourism industry gets back to normal – or whatever the new normal is.

When they go negative, you go positive

A lot of the media seems to be hounding on what’s wrong – travel bans, deaths, lifestyle changes – and it can get a bit tiresome. It’s easy for readers to get sucked into a vortex of negative news, creating this image of impending doom. The 24/7 news cycle has a particular penchant for making us feel bad when times are hard.

PR during the coronavirus crisis doesn’t have to be that way.

Yes, coronavirus is a challenge, we don’t disagree, but the media can change the way we frame it. Think of this moment as a chance to highlight the creativity and solutions emanating from this crisis. Restauranteurs in Seattle are changing the way they provide food to customers to keep jobs intact and businesses afloat. It’s just one example of a news story that is newsworthy, but also positive. Pitch these ideas to the media to get them excited about your destination and to give them timely stories that will also uplift readers. Highlight the innovation and ingenuity that makes your destination special.

Taking a constructive or solutions-oriented approach to travel media will help us all avoid feeling terrible while also highlighting the interesting and sometimes inspiring things that rise from the ashes of a crisis.

Concerned about how coronavirus will affect media relations for your destination in the future? For 60 years, DCI has been helping destinations sail the stormy seas of epidemics including bird flu and SARS, so we know how to get through this. For more information, contact  at [email protected] to learn more about how DCI can help you weather this pandemic.

Written By

Karyl Leigh Barnes

Karyl Leigh Barnes is President of DCI’s Tourism Practice. Since joining the firm in 1998, Karyl Leigh has led destination strategy and created marketing communication programs for destinations on every continent except Antarctica.

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