The role of media and Public Relations in the COVID 19 crisis?

Now, more than ever, in this historic, unprecedented chapter of global crisis, journalists – online, print, and broadcast – are being looked at to hold to account those in government, sports, business, sovereign states, and society.

In April, the Sunday Times reported that the landlord of the ExCel exhibition centre in east London was charging the NHS millions of pounds to use it as the Nightingale Hospital.

By Sunday evening, following the coverage, the landlord –Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company – had performed a dramatic u-turn and it was announced it would be rent-free.

On the same day, the Sun on Sunday exposed Scotland’s Chief Medical officer, who, by twice travelling to her holiday home with her family, managed to add a new level to hypocrisy by defying the rule she herself had set down for the public. It was an old-fashioned, agenda-setting story for a modern, unprecedented time which showed the usual rules still apply.

The weekend also brought debate around football place in all of this with pressure on players to take wage cuts.

The journalist’s questions at the end of the regular government coronavirus briefings, where the best reporters are asking the questions their readers and viewers desperately need to know. We see the media holding politicians and professionals to account for their decisions.

However, we do not just require the media to inform. A wider glance of the Sunday press shows the power of creativity – guides on how to make the best in lockdown, smart thinking on keeping fit, helpful hints on keeping the kids entertained. All life – even in the perilous times of our lives that is COVID 19 – exists here. To boot, most journalists are working from home, under great pressure with advertising revenues being blitzed with all sectors struggling, underlines the determination and talent of UK newsrooms to reach readers in lockdown.

The Wall Street Journal has reported that top global news sites are experiencing a 30% boost in web traffic. Sadly, it reports the pandemic will force local newspapers out of business, and the same could be true in the UK too where there is mounting pressure.

But where does this leave the world of Public Relations? Bill Gates was once quoted as saying that if he was down to his last dollar, he’d spend it on PR.

Did he really say it? It has been questioned. It is certainly a quote used by us all at various times in the PR industry. Questions on its origins aside, it now feels more relevant than ever. Gates is someone who knows what he is talking about – at a TED talk in 2015, he warned that the world was not ready for the next pandemic, one which he said could have a huge effect on life as a result.

Media scrutiny, as mentioned above, is more intense than ever. Journalists are looking closely at how companies act, how they treat customers, how they prepare for next steps. We have already seen a number of headline-grabbing PR mistakes.

A strategy for steering through this point – and emerging stronger the other side – is key. The government is showing on a daily basis the need to not only have a plan but being able to communicate it.

It is even more true in the current climate that one wrong turn can be fatal for reputation. There are of course many companies well placed to help and in fact boost their business in the current crisis – The PHA Group works with a number – but the pathway through for those companies is as important in the planning as those looking to evaluate their offering and business in the current climate.

But it is not all about reputation – positioning and creativity is also vital. Companies are finding all sorts of innovative ways to realign offerings. Whole industries and sectors are emerging as being able to supply a new demand and to provide solutions.

The breadth of media that PR programmes can reach also provides the value, bang for buck argument.

The best PR professionals listen to clients but ultimately, find ways to address the situations and address problems and help steer through troubled times.

While the country is on lockdown, the media – despite facing many of its own problems – certainly isn’t.

And that means being able to deal with communications as calmly, professionally and progressively, is of vital importance.

Get in touch with the team