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A view from across The Pond: Four essential principles for US PR in a pandemic

With all eyes on the Covid-19 crisis, we caught up with one of our PR partners from our global network, Jeff Ketner, CEO of  Ketner Group Communications, a specialist tech PR, content and marketing agency which operates in North America.

Jeff shares his insights on how PR agencies operating in the US can communicate during the coronavirus pandemic and gives us his four essential principles for US PR professionals during a crisis like this. Here’s what he had to say:


“The media relations landscape has never changed so quickly. Virtually overnight, media relations has pivoted to “all coronavirus, all the time,” as editors and reporters work feverishly to understand the impact of a virus that has upended all of our lives.

How can a PR agency communicate in a crisis like this? It can be summed up in a single word. Pivot—and the faster, the better.”

Jeff’s four essential PR principals during a pandemic:

Read the room

The worst thing PR professionals can do right now is send pitches that are tone-deaf or irrelevant. Now is the time to understand and respect the changing needs of editors and reporters, and only offer them the information that matters to them now. Save the routine communications for later; otherwise, you’ll lose the respect of the very people you’re trying to reach.

As one reporter recently shared on Twitter: “Dear PR friends, this is simply not the time to be casually dropping in to see what types of stories I’m working on or telling me about your client’s new skincare product. Please, spare my inbox just once in these trying times.”

Share your insights

Does your company have unique insights that can help reporters better understand the current crisis? Now is the time to step forward, but only in an unbiased, non-promotional way.

Lead with empathy

Empathy is essential. Acknowledge that editors and reporters are operating in a high-stress, fast-changing environment. They’re working longer hours than usual, and they’re worried about their families and friends just like the rest of us. Even a simple recognition that you’re emailing them in a time of crisis will be appreciated

Think beyond the current crisis

In a webinar on the state of the retail economy today, IHL analyst Greg Buzek said there are two ways retailers will mark time after this year: BC (Before Coronavirus) and AC (After Coronavirus). We haven’t reached the AC phase yet, but it will happen. A new normal will emerge, and communication needs will shift.

We’ve already seen a few glimmers of hope. This week we surveyed key editors and reporters, asking them how we could better serve them as they cover the COVID-19 pandemic. A reporter for a top-tier national publication responded that her coronavirus coverage was actually starting to slow a bit, and she was returning to stories she was working on before the crisis.

There will be a time for new product press releases, customer announcements, case studies, blogs and thought leadership content that’s not focused on coronavirus. We’re not quite there yet. However, now is the time to begin planning, focusing on “AC” strategies, and developing the kind of content and media relations programs that will resonate in the AC era. Companies that do this will be the ones that succeed as we emerge from this present crisis.

Jeff Ketner is CEO of Ketner Group Communications, a specialist tech PR agency which represents innovators that are reshaping the world we live in, including high-growth companies in retail, ecommerce, grocery and CPG, advertising and marketing, social media and consumer technology.  You can find further insights from Jeff and the team at Ketner over on their blog.

Ketner Group Communications is one of Fieldworks PR’s partner agencies that make up our extensive global partner network – trusted and proven agency partners that match Fieldworks’ DNA as retail technology specialist.  Together, our global reach provides PR, account based marketing and content services to tech companies selling in Europe, the US, Nordics, Middle East and Asia Pacific.


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