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Understanding Today’s Media: Insights from Top Journalists

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Take 5 with John McCartney

We're kicking off a new series here on the Cision blog called Take 5— it's five quick questions on PR, the state of the industry, and how it interconnects with everything else (like the current COVID-19 communications crisis), all with the brightest minds around. 

We've gotten so many great insights from the experts in our webinar series on Best Practices for Brand Communications in Times of Uncertainty we wanted to follow up on some of the questions we received to share with a wider audience. 

John McCartney, Managing Director of Wise PR, shares his thoughts. 


The software company I work for is open and productive, but- not surprisingly- our lead funnel is drying up and those on the verge of signing have gone silent. Our eyes are wide open and we totally get it. However, our software provides an environment for now-disparate teams to collaborate on and communicate about strategic initiatives and projects. What is an appropriate way to communicate this out to our funnel, customers, and the wider market while maintaining a sense of empathy and avoid sounding like a sales pitch?

You do not want to come off tone-deaf but you also want to make sure that your branding is out there in some way. It's a tough balance for sure.

Given that your "software provides an environment for now-disparate teams to collaborate on and communicate about strategic initiatives and projects" I would look at the types of media coverage that's been written about teams and the tools they are using to collaborate and communicate with one another. I know that Slack's CEO was on CNBC yesterday. The effect that the pandemic is having on the workforce is being covered. [You] may want to see how you can insert your company into that conversation, perhaps data as an example. Again, we need to come up with something that isn't self-serving, but adds value to the overall conversation.

On the webinar we also mentioned that brands need to use this time to hit the reset on their whole PR and marketing initiatives, use the outbound messaging to communicate with the target audiences from a sense of empathy, keeping the dialogue open.

I would also look at putting together a byline or two about the pandemic and its effect on collaboration and communication and to include some insights and solutions— the goal is to get the byline published with a media outlet (earned vs paid).


What's the best way to evaluate if planned announcements and launches sound go forward at this time?

During the webinar, I mentioned that we all now have to be more critical of any planned PR campaigns.

Truly ask yourself "what value is this planned PR campaign going to bring to the table and to the overall conversation?"
If it's more to just get the company name out there without any sense of empathy, then that is a bad move and surely will cause some backlash.
I would even go a step further, "How is the planned announcement fitting in with the overall strategy for the next 2 quarters?"

There has to be some logic here as far as connecting the dots—  what's the overall goal from a marketing standpoint, and how are these planned announcements going to help meet that goal?

I also mentioned during the webinar that we have to get back to basics, read the outlets that matter to your brand and see what types of coverage they are publishing; see if there's anything there that might be a good fit with your brand.  


How do you think this crisis will affect PR culture and agencies, big and small, as a whole?

I think this whole notion of working from home is going to have a really big impact. Business is going to get done, we're going to ask ourselves, do we really need to go into the office? Telecommuting was a thing before, [and I] think it's going to be even more accepted. That said, from a cultural standpoint, the key issue is how are these agencies going to define their DNA, if you will. On one hand, there is this notion of everyone coming to the office but if businesses are able to run these operations with everyone spread out, then is there really a need to get an offline office?

I don't think the notion of offices is going to be over. Far from it. But, I do think that for the smaller agencies, they will become more open to working from home and perhaps just booking a conference room on an ad hoc basis if need be, which leads to the future of the co-working spaces like WeWork. Not sure they will really survive this crisis.


How do you show empathy when leadership at companies and government have lost credibility?

I think something like this can be answered from your values point of view. If you are working for a company that you feel lost their credibility, one could argue, is this something you can accept long term? As far as the government, that's a whole other conversation.


How are you handling PR in international markets, including countries that are not yet severely affected—  or places like China and Korea that are actually trying to move to a post-crisis stage?

I currently am not handling any PR in international markets. That said, I think the points that we raised during the webinar still applies:

  1. Read the room
  2. Get back to fundamentals
  3. Empathy

I made the point that now is not the time for PR to be cut. Now is the time to reinforce the value PR brings to the table.

PR now has to maintain the open dialogue between a brand and its target audience.  Brands need to make sure that their outbound talking points and messaging are aligned with PR, marketing, social media, and that the voice is more from an empathetic and human standpoint, and not tone deaf.