THE BIG PITCH: When and how should 'normal' PR activity resume?

Whatever your PR plans were for the next six months to a year, you

can basically forget about them. The world of financial media relations

has been changed indelibly. The terror that reined down on New York City

and Washington, DC hit closer to most news people and news organizations

than all the bombs and grenades of Vietnam, Korea, and World War II


Ground Zero for the New York attack is also the town square of a media

village that included, among other news residents, The Wall Street

Journal, Barron's, The Nightly Business Report, and

Regardless of their physical location at the time of the blasts, every

New York business journalist was personally affected by the World Trade

Center attack. For some, the tragedy left them recalling the last

breakfast meeting they had at the Twin Towers. Others recalled the

various corporate offices, now destroyed, where they conducted recent

interviews. Right now, all business journalists and news organizations

are running on adrenaline.

Even shell-shocked reporters whose offices were blown away in the

terrorist attacks - and who lost friends or sources - have suppressed

their emotions in the heroic effort to keep the presses running and the

airwaves filled with news. But there will come a time for each

journalist to return to the old routine, only to discover that it, too,

was irreparably damaged by the tragedy.

Six or twelve months from now, when the world has returned to some

semblance of pre-attack normalcy, what will it be like for many of these

journalists to sit in a newsroom and contemplate a resumption of their

earlier careers? For some, the return to routine will be a welcome

relief. But I believe many of those who experienced the World Trade

Center and Pentagon attacks will find it hard to cope, and even harder

to concentrate.

I, for one, would not like to pitch them the same run-of-the-mill

business mush.

Many PR agency and corporate communications executives themselves have

been so swept up in the crisis stage of this story that they likely have

yet to realize its long-term implications for what they do. For now,

their world is filled with dispatches on corporate relocations and

contributions and emergency assistance. But long before business

journalists are ready to get back to news as normal, PR people will

begin feeling the pressure from the executive suite to get attention for

their business-as-usual news developments. What follows are some of my

suggestions on the best strategic way to position your PR efforts in the

coming weeks and months.

1. Prepare senior executives for lowered expectations now. Let them know

the business news world has changed, and it will mean only the most

important regular business stories will get ink. Previously marginal

business news stories and features are now irrelevant.

2. Delay any plans for "get to know you" media visits and calls. Unless

your company and/or executives have an expertise of direct bearing on

the terrorist attacks and aftermath, no business journalist wants to

meet you casually anytime soon.

3. Build on the closeness forged with journalists during this


Like Democrats and Republicans who usually carp at one another, PR

people and journalists are enjoying a rare unity of purpose: keeping the

public correctly informed. If you hear from a journalist, ask what you

and your company can do to help.

4. Use this time for planning and departmental review. Now is a time to

scout out news organizations and journalists who are likely to be

responsive to your message when the business world returns to



The most important thing media relations executives should be doing now

is carefully monitoring the news. It is important to see which beat

reporters (i.e., feature, lifestyle, home, family, etc.) will be getting

back to their regular schedules over the next few weeks. By monitoring

the news, one will notice that right now it isn't wise to pitch the city

desk at The New York Times, or even national morning shows. It's also

important to monitor local media markets that were not as immediately

affected as New York and Washington, DC, as they might be more inclined

to get back to regular reporting over the next couple of weeks and will

be the media outlet contacts to consider prioritizing for company news

unrelated to the attacks. When returning to regular media outreach over

the next few weeks, it's important to be very conscious of a

journalist's world right now. Your approach should make it clear that

you understand that the most important thing is informing the American

public on the country's situation.

Be sensitive to the types of PR campaigns you launch during this


You don't want to support something inappropriate. Since the tragedy we

have seen movies and other media change and postpone premiere/launch

dates because the content could be seen as offensive. In addition,

because of the tragedy, the media will likely seek "feel-good" stories

over the weeks and months to come.


Tragic, devastating, and distracting, the events of September 11 need to

become less and less encompassing of our lives and work. Although we

have approached the resumption of "business as usual" carefully, we are

already finding that many journalists are eager to make contact,

continue work, and move beyond the tragedy. Each situation requires tact

and sensitivity - many calls and e-mails begin with more than just a

cursory "How are you?" But work must go on for the sake of all as a

helpful distraction.


There are three phases to crisis response: hard news, interpretation,

and healing. While we're still in the hard news part, there is little

point in trying to pitch ordinary news. But even once we get beyond the

hard news (whenever that is), we must recognize that cold, electronic

pitching needs to be abandoned for a while. Use relationships already

established to test the waters with journalists first. In an incident of

this proportion, reporters are personally affected, and we should treat

each case individually.



First, hold off on TV and other hard news outlets. With little air and

space to fill at the present time, unless you have hard-breaking news,

wait until the window opens a bit more. We might not really know when

this will be, since so much is still up in the air. Frankly, I would

rather wait than lose credibility with my harder news contacts by

pitching them fluffier news during this crisis. Second, don't tie

anything into the attacks unless there is a solid bridge. Connecting a

consumer product PR campaign with the tragedies would be a tragedy unto

itself. This isn't a time to ride on coattails. Third, monthly magazines

are still a major, viable option, since they will keep reporting on

regular consumer-oriented stories.



While this tragedy has temporarily curtailed traditional media

relations, as PR practitioners we are in a position where we can truly

help the country regain a sense of normalcy as we work to provide crisis

counsel to our clients, as well as develop internet messages and

internal and other non-media communications. However, we are also

working to determine which clients are experts in relevant fields and,

as such, should be available to reporters for commentary. What we're

finding is that local-market media - outside of New York - is already

looking to provide viewers, listeners, and readers with other news.

Time-sensitive stories about health, the economy, security, and business

are of paramount interest, and can be pitched immediately, whereas new

product launches and evergreen stories should not be pitched for a few



Normal PR activities should resume in phases, starting with topics the

furthest removed from the tragedy. In terms of media relations,

newspaper and magazine editors working on long-lead deadlines handling

feature or trade-specific topics unrelated to the terrorist attacks and

the ensuing crisis can be approached now. We are already seeing some

newspaper feature sections and local television news programs outside

New York and Washington, DC begin to return to normal. Even so, I would

begin every conversation by asking if they are indeed working on

subjects unrelated to the tragedy.

I think it will be two to three more weeks - and longer if military

action takes place - before most reporters at top-tier news

publications, networks, news radio, and the wires will be interested in

non-related topics. Now would be a good time to meet with clients and

refocus PR strategies to adjust to the situation.

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