Gail Sideman Publicity

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PR during a pandemic can be tricky

My job is to get businesses or people noticed by their ideal audiences and the media. That part hasn’t changed since most of America began to hunker down in wake of the COVID-19 or coronavirus pandemic. How and when to send out publicity pitches — approach people about business news and notes — has become a little more complex, however.

During any times of crisis, we in the image-making and protection world have shifted (well, most of us) the ways we do business to respect the sensitive nature of what’s happening nationally and globally. Today, as people on the planet physically distance to avoid getting sick or spreading the virus to others, that shift is in play.

Each morning I listen to and read the news, and scan social media to gauge the temperature of the audiences I want to talk to. I do that on a normal day, but today, those antennae are pointed in all directions. You might think that sports-related stories are immune to that sensitivity, but they’re not. By my count, it took a good three weeks for sports media to decide what they were going to talk about and as we head into Week 4 (I think), that’s still fluid. After all, it was sports that led the way for America to change its ways after Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19. That started a chain reaction which led leagues to suspend seasons and send personnel into quarantine.

Topics such as college athletics’ name, image and likeness (NIL) legislation continue their march through states’ legal processes and that’s been a topic I’ve shared with reporters throughout the country. At a time in history when we are temporarily limited to where we can responsibly go and what we can do brings about more reasons why college athletes should be able to use their faces to make a few dollars, but that can be a post on its own. Today’s message is that this is a story that continues to grow while speculation moves about when we might be able to start sports again.

Several sports talk programs have taken up brackets that include everything from candy to broadcasters as well as lists — holy cow, the lists — to fill time and space. And there is of course, the NFL, which continues its off-season with a few tweaks including an anticipated remote draft. There is great debate whether that “show must go on” while thousands of people throughout the country are suffering, dying or simply trying to be responsible to not spread coronavirus. Do sports fans want that diversion or is it insensitive as the world faces a different challenge?

Regardless, being a publicist in the COVID-19 era is a test even more significant than when news staffs began to shrink years ago. This time, however, also provides opportunity. My phone rings for comment when crises arise in sports because people want to know what could have been done to avoid an issue. During this period, I’ve worked with organizations to explain proactive crisis communications plans, and helped others react deliberately when their companies go mute or announce layoffs via email and teleconference.

It’s not pretty among some companies, and as Mark Cuban said last month, this period will shine a light on businesses that act with safety and compassion and contrast with those that don’t communicate or disregard employees’ challenges. It will define their brand ‘for decades,’ he said.

We’re all living this and are smart to remain alert and aware of our surroundings on and offline. If you haven’t already, disengage scheduled social media posts that only shill. Our world moves quickly and you don’t want to appear detached like many that pop into my Twitter feed.

With that in mind, let’s all think of others during this period. Whether it means providing valuable information or a virtual hand to hold, be good to one another. It’s more than a PR move. It’s humanity.

Photo: picjumbo.com

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┬ęGail Sideman, gpublicity 2020

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