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COVID-19 Comms: Turning a Crisis into Media Opportunities

COVID-19 Crisis Communications Media Pitching

The past few months have been challenging for PR and media professionals as the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted an intrinsic element of the industry: face-to-face interaction. Events have been cancelled or postponed, business priorities have shifted, and livelihoods are now threatened as companies are reeling from the economic impact.

Earlier this month, some markets in APAC have resumed some form of economic activity and normalcy, as infection rates begin to subside. One such market is Hong Kong, which has recently eased social distancing measures. As the situation develops, we take a look at trending news topics in Hong Kong that have emerged from the crisis and get journalists from two Hong Kong-based media outlets, Bloomberg Businessweek and Tatler Asia to weigh in on how brands can present distinctive and relevant story angles that can fit into the media’s COVID-19 agenda.

According to media monitoring data from Cision Communications Cloud®, the media coverage of COVID-19 in Hong Kong has been fluctuating, depending on the severity of the infection spread in the territory.

COVID-19 Comms: Turning a Crisis into Media Opportunities
(Source: Cision Communications Cloud)

 

From late January to early March, the increase in the number of COVID-19 news was much steeper than that of non COVID-19 news as infection rates soared. In mid-March, both figures began to stagnate and decrease sharply by the end of the month. As the number of infections fell, the media switched its focus to non COVID-19 news from April, while the number of COVID-19 news continued to shrink as the situation gradually became better by the end of April.

COVID-19 Crisis Communications Media Pitching
(Source: Cision Communications Cloud)

 

As of late April, the Share of Voice Comparison chart shows that the media agenda in Hong Kong is almost split down to the middle when it comes to COVID-19 news. The volume of COVID-19 News to non COVID-19 news is 46% to 54%. This is an indication that the media has the appetite and bandwidth to cover other types of articles such as human interest and brand stories. Thus, it is imperative that communications professionals position their brand stories in relevant and impactful ways that can stand out from numerous email pitches that the media receives.

COVID-19 Crisis Communications Media Pitching
(Source: Cision Communications Cloud)

 

We zero in on some of the trending keywords that have a prominent presence in Hong Kong’s media landscape over the past four months. They include frontlines (i.e. domestic helper and front line medical staff), press releases, World Health Organization (WHO), working from home and flexible working hours. Although the COVID-19 situation has eased, news on front-liners combating the virus retains a stronger presence against other keywords.

COVID-19 Crisis Communications Media Pitching
(Source: Cision Communications Cloud)

 

Charity work and the economic impact are two closely-watched topics that have emerged from this crisis. Here’s a look at the volume of news articles on Support during the COVID-19 period (based on keywords such as offer and donation) and economic impact (based on keywords such as marketing, sales, business, economic and downturn.

Here are six trending news topics that communications professionals should take note when looking for story angles 

Volunteers from the Hang Lung Properties; volunteer team Hang Lung As One helped to pack 2,000 health and food kits for the needy. (Photo: Hang Lung Properties)
Volunteers from the Hang Lung Properties helped to pack 2,000 health and food kits for the needy. (Photo: Hang Lung Properties)

 

  1. Support During COVID-19

From monetary and in-kind donations to human-interest stories, articles on how companies are contributing to those in need have become one of the most prominent news angles.

  1. Business/Economic Impact

The spread of the virus has caused businesses around the world to suffer revenue losses, and some have even ceased operations. This has piqued the public’s curiosity on understanding the economic shock brought about by the virus, and how they can better prepare for the impending challenges.

  1. Frontliners

Although remote working has become the norm, front-line medical staff do not have this luxury. On top of their usual job routines, they also face extreme pressure from handling an influx of new cases every day. With infections on the rise, the number of media reports on the work of frontline medical staff looks set to increase.

  1. Press Releases

Besides press releases on health precautions, those on business contingency plans of companies are popular among audiences. These press releases have helped to restore public confidence that business operations will resume as soon as this crisis is over.

  1. WHO-related News

As the virus continues to throw the world in a state of confusion, a considerable number of political and business leaders are heeding the public health advice from this global health institution.

  1. Working from Home

With the pandemic in full swing, companies are embracing remote work arrangements. Given that most industries are new to this concept, audiences are seeking technology help on utilizing video conferencing tools like Zoom and work collaboration platforms such as Microsoft Teams and Slack.

The Media’s Perspective

COVID-19 Crisis Communications Media Pitching

Don Cheng

Senior Reporter, Bloomberg Businessweek (Chinese Edition) 

 

What I am looking out for?

Many businesses have been affected by the pandemic. Instead of focusing on the negative aspect, I’d pay more attention on how companies are turning new possibilities that have emerged from this crisis into opportunities. Meanwhile, the Internet has become a more important platform, so I also keep an eye on how companies are branching out to e-commerce.

My editorial angle

For business-related “good Samaritans” stories, I would develop it with a broader perspective by talking about how this issue benefits the society and the economy. Typically, companies issue business-driven press releases. However, I don’t consider such hard-sell promotional content as news. If the content has broader implications, it would be more appealing to me to report on.

Brand example

A biotech company, which mainly develops industrial-grade sanitation products, has shifted its production to focus on the domestic market. Like in some parts of the world, Hong Kong experienced a shortage of masks. As a result, companies and individuals from different industries started manufacturing masks locally, which makes a news-worthy story. 

 

COVID-19 Crisis Communications Media Pitching

Zabrina Lo

Associate Features Editor, Tatler Asia (Hong Kong)

What I am looking out for?

From individuals or companies:

Charity work: The outbreak is a global challenge, so stories on people who place emphasis on doing charity work instead of business are worth covering.

Stories of resilience: It’s always fascinating to see how companies remain positive and competitive by coming up with creative campaigns to cope with difficult times.

From media and PR companies: 

Flexibility: The nature of work schedules has changed as companies and governments enforce safe distancing measures to curb the spread of the virus. Hence, it is vital for PR and media companies to go the extra mile to get stories out and keep the news scene active.

My editorial angle

Different media companies have varying readerships, coverage and writing styles. With the high volume of emails that I receive daily, a stand-out story would be one that is aligned with my company’s editorial direction and values. Stories need not come from just high-profile individuals. What attracts my attention are heart-felt stories of humble individuals on why and how they are doing good deeds and why they deserve recognition.

Brand example

During the early stages of the outbreak, a number of art galleries and theatres made their shows and artworks available online. These days, the virtual viewing space has become both a trend and the norm. Art has become more accessible to a wider range of people than in the pre COVID-19 period, despite the postponement or cancellation of many exhibitions and performances. An example is Art Power HK, a communal campaign that gathers over 80 museums, galleries and media organizations to bring art online for free after Art Basel was cancelled. It is impressive and encouraging to see that many art organizations are giving free access to their platforms.

RELATED: Click here to read more stories on how journalists in APAC are coping with the COVID-19 pandemic. 

 


This article is written by Kate Wong, Audience Development Manager at PR Newswire and Yannis Leung, an Audience Development Intern, who is an English Studies undergraduate at the City University of Hong Kong.