Practicing PR as an Independent Practitioner during COVID-19 

By Joyce Lofstrom, MS, APR

As PRSA Chicago members transitioned to at-home offices during the COVID-19 pandemic, independent PR practitioners were already in place with their business office ready to go. Yet, this new reality offers consistent challenges for so many in the profession. 

Following are four tips for practicing PR during this pandemic with insights from independent PR pros and others. 

Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness appears at the top of this list as a tool to determine a practitioner’s outlook and approach to the day. Client challenges, barking dogs during a new business call, homework checks or writer’s block encompass familiar challenges to a productive day. However, clinical social worker Angela Fileccia, MSW, LCSW, presents a tool to consider in her May 1 article in PRSA Strategies and Tactics. 

“One powerful tool is mindfulness, which Jon Kabat Zinn defines as, “[The] awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, nonjudgmentally,” says Fileccia. 

She shares her experience on encountering a bear during a walk with her dog in Maine. She compares her fight-or-flight response upon meeting this bear to facing the COVID-19 crisis and our personal mental health. As she notes, “the ‘bears’ in our lives are unavoidable; however, these tools will help us cope as we support each other throughout the pandemic and beyond.”

Adjust Pitching Strategies

Pitching media continually evolves to accommodate the changes in journalism and the overall news cycle. Currently, the headlines in every industry focus on COVID-19. That transition in news demands adjustment from PR pros as well. 

“For media pitching, my tip is to confirm your long-held perceptions of specific journalists and outlets. Investigate what their situations are right now. In many cases, you’ll find wholesale changes from just a month ago,” says Vince Galloro, founder and principal, Sunrise Health Communications, and Chicago chapter member.  “Individual reporters are taking on temporary beats related to COVID-19. Some outlets are shifting their focus, and many, of course, are going through wrenching changes driven by deteriorating financial performance. Don’t forget what experience has taught you but do verify what you think you know and look for changes that may reveal new opportunities.”

Listen First 

With so much happening now on both sides of the PR desk, now is the time to step back and listen to client situations. 

“This is an important time to support your clients as much as possible,” says Dorothy Coyle, of Dorothy Coyle & Associates, and a chapter member. “They are faced with so many unknowns that I believe our ability to listen deeply to their concerns and fears is crucial. 

“The more we listen, the more likely we are to identify something that we can help them with, whether it's a new type of internal communication for remote employees, a fundraising idea that may replace or complement a revenue stream impacted by the pandemic or a client tribute to first responders and health care workers.  As much as we are doers, we must first be listeners.”

Listening often points to new approaches that clients voice or that the PR practitioner discovers. By reviewing current client activities, Galloro has taken steps to reposition his work for some of his clients. 

“I work exclusively in healthcare, but I think this applies to any industry right now, says Galloro.” Taking a few steps back from the work I was doing for my clients prior to COVID-19 and re-evaluating their positioning now has been invaluable. Two clients have evolved quickly to meet coronavirus-related needs in the market and that has meant revising the stories we tell on the fly.”

Connect with Peers

Recent video meetings also may include informal meetups with peers or friends or a virtual happy hour. The PRSA Independent Practitioners Alliance (IPA) hosts an Indie Chat twice a week where members or anyone working remotely in PR (all of us!) can join the 30-minute check-in.

J.W. Arnold, APR, Fellow PRSA, PRDC Public Relations, is past chair of IPA and host the chats. He explains that even though most indies are “used” to working from home, the chats help address the concern that “the shutdown associated with the COVID-19 pandemic was creating an exception sense of isolation.” Thus, the group convenes twice a week to connect, laugh and commiserate.

“There’s never an agenda, and we have different participants each session, depending on who is available and wants to chat,” says J.W.  “We’ve made new friends, shared tips for participants considering launching their own independent businesses, and believe it or not, even facilitated some business opportunities.” 

Anyone interested in attending the Indie Chats can find the link in the MYPRSA Open Forum and the IPA social media channels. And as J.W. says, “The more the merrier.”

Learn more about PRSA’s IPA membership section.

Step Ahead

The COVID-19 pandemic has shifted priorities for everyone – from clients to family to next-door neighbors. As uncertainty continues, time has become the constant to manage. Adapting to client needs, understanding how to provide journalists with the stories they need and connecting with peers remain as pillars of quality and ethical public relations. 

Step ahead and learn what the PRSA Chicago chapter offers in the months ahead. 

Other resources for public relations professionals

About the author

Joyce Lofstrom, MS, APR, is a PRSA Chicago chapter, IPA and Health Academy member. She established Joyce Lofstrom & Associates, LLC in 2018. 

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