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Media Relations in the Time of COVID-19: Five Tips for Automotive & Manufacturing Suppliers

The global COVID-19 pandemic has turned daily life upside down for many of us, altering our work schedules and life routines. And for those working in the communication departments at auto, mobility tech and manufacturing suppliers, recent days have most likely been spent trying to keep on top of internal messaging for employees and breaking news in the industry, as well as reshuffling the calendar of events for the immediate future.

However, once you and your team settle into your temporary new normal in the days ahead … what happens with your media outreach plans? How do you keep your relationships with key industry reporters going during this time?

Are reporters even interested in any news outside of COVID-19? The answer is both yes and no, depending on the audience.

Below are five tips on how to navigate media relations in the auto and manufacturing space during this time of uncertainty:

Outlet Awareness – be aware that most media working for either local news or business outlets nationwide are going to be singularly focused on virus coverage for the time being. These reporters most likely will not have time for your general news right now, unless it is related to, or a result of, the pandemic. If you have positive news, for example on what your company is doing to convert production to make parts for hospital ventilators, go ahead and pitch it.

However, these daily news reporters may still reach out to you with questions about how your company is handling things, about inventory / production / shutdown plans, or to see if you have a spokesperson who can share insight into how local companies are being affected.

In Touch with the Trades – Unlike local or business outlets, industry trade publications covering the automotive, manufacturing, mobility or technology industries might be more receptive to news outside of COVID-19. While these journalists are also covering the pandemic, they will still need industry specific-related content to fill pages for their readers and many actually seek newsworthy news releases.

Consider this recent comment by a journalist responding to a PR pro’s question about pitching these days:

“Can’t speak for all, but from my seat covering automotive, we’re looking for non-COVID-19 news – not just because we need a mental break. With reveals, launches and related news having ground to a halt, releases with genuine news and fleet loans are more important than ever.” Chris Paukert, CNET Roadshow

Help with the Hurdles – During normal times, your trade reporter contacts rely heavily on industry events and shows, plus in-person interviews and press conferences, for their stories. With those things on-hold, this can be a great time to touch base and see what their content needs are. If they are receptive, offer up phone interviews with your experts, stay on top of their editorial calendars, pitch original articles or tech papers that your experts have written, or share presentations packed with interesting data, images and forward thinking innovations.

Just remember, they are probably working from home just like you, so may face the same distractions – pets, children, background noise, etc. – that you may be dealing with. A little bit of humor, some empathy and a lot of patience will help.

Bring Event Content to Them – If your company was planning to participate in an upcoming trade show or tech conference that was canceled due to COVID-19, don’t let your preparation go to waste! Were you planning to share product news at the show? Were your experts going to present during an educational session or tech talk? Was your CEO going to give a keynote? If you have informational content that is already prepared, think of new ways to present it to key reporters, either digitally, via a webinar, or by offering up phone / video interviews.

Future Forward – We are all living in uncertain times right now but looking ahead to what hopefully will be once things return to normal can help. When checking in with reporters, think about what kinds of content could be helpful, positive or informative to readers who are looking for news within the industry that can give them something to focus on beyond the uncertainty. Mention plans for future events, exciting developments in R&D, how your company is adapting and meeting challenges, etc.

Author: Leslie Dagg

Leslie is an account supervisor at Bianchi PR with 19 years of B2B PR experience representing clients across multiple industries.

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