|Alexis E. Blais|
Across sectors, companies continue to operate in uncharted waters as the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted public health, disrupted the economy, upended social norms and dramatically altered how companies work and communicate with their various stakeholders.
Along with these impacts, COVID-19 was a fierce reminder of the importance of accurate and timely journalism, especially in times of crisis. Since mid-March, the virus has completely dominated national headlines, leaving many companies with the question, “What are the current rules of media engagement?”
While no one can say for certain, we can share our observations on how businesses are positioning themselves in response to media’s appetite for insight into how they’re faring, as well as considerations companies and CEOs should make before engaging with media during this time.
CEOs are discussing, first and foremost, how they’re supporting their own workforce, with most citing employee safety and security as their top priority.
Featured CEOs remain highly focused on identifying and pulling the various levers they have available to avoid layoffs and maintain business continuity. CEOs are being asked how their industry is being disrupted, to shed light on their plans moving forward and to comment on the sort of federal assistance needed—without going too far on what’s next, given so much remains unknown. When asked when normalcy will resume, most are conveying positive, encouraging messages, while noting the crisis will likely forever change business. CEOs of industries benefiting from the “stay-at-home economy” are in high demand to discuss the potential boom, albeit with a very humble tone.
CEOs are appropriately spotlighting efforts to respond to COVID-19: retail CEOs on producing masks and other equipment, restaurant CEOs on safety procedures, healthcare CEOs on managing the crisis, CEOs from a variety of industries offering free services and other efforts. Corporate announcements similar to these have legitimate news value in the current climate and can be used to book CEO interviews.
CEOs are primarily doing interviews from their home offices—some polished, some in their “natural state.” Whether or not to feature branding behind a CEO in their home office is a matter of preference, but with many anchors at home, matching their setting is often most appropriate.
In addition to COVID-19 containment and testing, a major editorial focus is workforces: who’s getting furloughed, who’s pledging “no layoffs,” worker strikes, keeping employees safe and so forth.
There’s significant editorial demand for CEOs and directors of industry groups who can speak credibly about an industry at large.
Across networks, unless it’s a hyper-relevant expert, the spokesperson from featured companies is the CEO. Given the magnitude of this crisis, audiences want to hear from the chief executive.
Tone of voice across CEOs reflects the seriousness of the issue, along with considerable empathy, but there’s still room for humor and light banter. Joking about home offices, funny challenges and missing certain aspects of office life are working to balance the severity of the situation.
There’s a high threshold for what warrants coverage related to COVID-19 support efforts. Basic corporate donations are no longer receiving airtime. More unique initiatives such as special bonuses, supporting employees who can’t work from home and converting factories to make critical healthcare supplies are what’s breaking through.
CEOs who can discuss positive developments as a result of other countries beginning to recover, such as China, are in high demand.
While executive spokespeople have been trained to condense their key messages for broadcast’s time-constrained format, networks are allowing CEOs more room to convey the full breadth of their position at this time.
Planning your media strategy for the next 90 days is highly dependent on your particular industry, given a majority are still assessing COVID-19’s impact. Overall, CEOs are reluctant to discuss with media long-term adjustments in strategy, simply because it’s too early. Unless chief executives have a legitimate reason to be interviewed, CEOs in so-called “non-essential” industries should have modest expectations of national broadcast coverage for the foreseeable future.
Alexis E. Blais is Vice President of ICR’s technology group.