Expert Insights

Preparing for the New Normal: Communications during COVID-19 in the GCC

April 5, 2020

By Joshua Mathias

Over the last weekend, Dave Duschene, Executive Director, Corporate Communications and Ryan Richert, Executive Director, Global Media for Golin published an interesting blog post, very relevant to our current situation – Predicting the News Cycle of an Event Like No Other in Modern PR History.

 

The inspiration for this post was a question posed by a client: “We know how to operate in a crisis around a single breaking news event, but what’s the media cycle around this?”

 

Under normal circumstances, a single-day news event drives a spike in coverage, which is then followed by a gradual, but certain, return to normal.

 

This is, however, not the case with COVID-19. It is very near all-consuming, as these charts from Golin’s own Relevance Radar show, specific to COVID-19 news coverage across the GCC region.

 

Short staffed media houses are scrambling to find not just new pandemic-related stories, but stories that are relevant to the region, country, and city.

 

More than ever, it is now imperative that PR professionals in the region and across the world take a step back and shift the pitch model. Try to anticipate what media would be interested in and pitch stories that are relevant and specific to what they need, when they need it.

 

How to anticipate what will happen next?
Golin created a model – the COVID-19 Communications Curve – to help clients understand the current news cycle, and its potential evolution trajectory in the coming weeks.

 

This Covid-19 Communications Curve mirrors the arc of news about the virus, and in doing so anticipates what the media focus will be during each phase of the pandemic.

 

In the MENA region, we see that headlines are currently focused on what countries and governments are doing to protect their citizens and residents, and rightly so. This ties-in to the Peak stage of media and audience interest. This is the time for front-line stories, about the initiatives, the people, and the organisations driving the national response.

 

In this situation, messaging with a direct connect to an organization investing in the front line response, such as developing ventilators and masks, is what would generate the most media attention at this time.

 

What should I do, if the organization I represent does not ‘seem’ to be relevant at this time?
This is where personal relationships and effective media relations come to the fore.

 

Targeted Pitching – An ongoing relationship with media help you understand the topics close to their hearts, and what they would be interested in writing about, especially as there could be an opportunity for stories that shine through the heavy COVID-19 messaging. Instead of the prehistoric ‘spray-and-pray’ model, a more specific and targeted approach, backed by strong insights and reader value, will help generate more interest.

 

K.I.S.S. (Keep it short & simple) – Time to demystify complex pitches and discuss potential outcomes are luxuries that media do not have right now. Keeping emails short and concise, with a few relevant bullet points, will be immensely effective now more than ever.

 

Prepare for the New Normal – In parts of the world, such as China, we can see that life is slowly returning back to normal and media attention is shifting accordingly. Due to the incredible response and actions of governments from countries within the GCC region to contain COVID-19, we can be optimistic about positive things happening in the very near future and, as such, organizations need to invest efforts now to build a pool of forward-looking stories.

 

What stories could work during the Rebuilding Stage?
In terms of forward-looking stories, we strongly believe that media will look for unique takes that answer some of these questions. How did your brand learn and evolve during the pandemic? Which of the changes you experienced are likely to be adopted and implemented in the longer-term? What are some of the heroic actions taken by your people during this period? What are some of the challenges your organization foresees and how will you navigate past that?

 

The COVID-19 situation has emphasized the fact that no one can predict the future, but we can make educated decisions about why we should – or should not – communicate what and when we do in each phase to customers, media, and other stakeholders.

 

To talk through how you can ramp up your preparations for the ‘New Normal’, reach out to us at info@golinmena.net. In the meantime, #StayHome and #StaySafe.