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Meghan Ely 2018 Photo by Melanie Smith Portrait

Public Relations Strategies for Event Pros During the COVID-19 Crisis

Tips for special events pros on managing publicity in the fallout from COVID-19.

Coverage surrounding the COVID-19 crisis is nonstop, and as an industry, it’s essential that we become a part of the conversation.

Right now, reporters are in need of consistent, easy-to-reach event veterans who are willing to share how this impacting the industry, as well as to offer guidance for those with booked gatherings and celebrations.

So, what are the right publicity steps to take as an event professional at this moment?

  1.  Think about your messaging.

For many right now, the goal is simple--to assure the public that you are taking every measure necessary, and that there will an event industry to return to after the crisis. But you yourself need to determine right off: What message are you trying to disseminate and how will you prioritize it with your pitches and subsequent interviews?

  1.  Acknowledge your limitations.

The fact is: We don’t know everything about every aspect of COVID-19, so be honest with reporters when a question is beyond your area of expertise. If a question is better suited, for example, for a lawyer or insurance agent, be forthright and, when possible, offer to help connect the writer to the appropriate companies. They will far more appreciative of you taking the time to do so versus answering with just a guess. 

  1.  Offer yourself as an expert to local media outlets.

Around-the-clock coverage surrounding COVID-19 is likely for the foreseeable future, so now is the time to introduce yourself to area reporters so you can serve as a trusted expert during this time. Start simply by researching local outlets covering COVID-19 as it relates to you--be it writers with a hospitality/events beat, those who cover weddings, or a journalist focused on entrepreneurs.

Keep the email introduction short but sweet, note your purpose for reaching out, how you can assist, and the best way to reach you. If you have an extensive network of colleagues willing to assist, be sure to mention that as well. No need to follow up after this, unless you have a compelling reason to do so; they’ll file you away and be in touch as needed.

  1.  Join HARO today.

Help a Reporter Out is an invaluable resource that connects journalists with sources globally. When you sign up for a free membership, you begin to receive media requests three times day, Monday through Friday. As it stands, there are countless queries from journalists actively seeking both firsthand accounts of how the pandemic is impacting their businesses as well as best practices for those hosting events.

HARO has a relatively short learning curve; simply review the emails as they come in, seeking any query where you may be able to assist. Most will either include a series of interview questions or be very specific about their exact needs. Simply answer the request in complete sentences, and be sure not to deviate from what is being asked of you. The reporter will be back in touch to clarify any points made, or to send along follow-up questions.

HARO skips the middleman and allows you to focus more time on answering relevant requests, versus allocating your time to researching appropriate media contacts.

  1. Educate through event industry podcasts.

Podcasts are the rise in the event industry, and with good reason. No media outlet is better suited for you to share both your expertise and personality, the two things statistically that prospective clients pay attention to the most when making hiring decisions.

If you haven’t done so already, run a search on wedding- and event-related podcasts on iTunes, and two to three that catch your interest. Give them a listen and, soon enough, it will be clear which might be a match for you based on their topics and the manner in which they covering them.

Right now, COVID-19 is the foremost topic on everyone’s minds, so ask yourself: How can I purposefully lend to this conversation? Whether you focus on lessons learned from past crises, client management, or ways to cut costs during this time, select a topic you can speak on for 30 to 45 minutes that has not been covered by your targeted podcast.

Many podcast websites will have submission forms but, in the event that they do not, reach out to them via email, briefly explaining your reason for emailing, your suggested topics, and why you may be a fit for the show.

Just bear in mind during this time of crisis, that podcasts will have quick turnarounds with interviews, with little time to prep. Being able to provide a quick one-sheet with your bio, sample questions and key points on the chosen topic might be a welcome addition.

      6. Take steps to make your website media-friendly--and do it quickly.

Whether you are making an active PR push or find that your site pops up on page one of Google for what you do, you are increasing the likelihood that reporters will seek you out for commentary. With that, it’s essential that you take a few additional measures to ensure your site is media-friendly.

First, have your phone and email readily available on your contact page and press page. Don’t simply leave a contact form on your site and expect journalists to complete it--especially if the form is meant for prospective clients and includes required queries such as event date and size.

Next, make sure your bio and company profile are completely up to date, including team size, leadership positions on association boards, and client work. Reporters covering COVID-19 work especially quickly and will assume your site’s content is up to date. 

  1. Monitor your phones closely.

As a rule of thumb, keep your cell phone close and be ready to answer it at a moment’s notice should a journalist reach out. While email is still a preferred method of communication for many reports, in times of tight deadlines, a quick phone call is often needed.

Internally, we always answer unknown numbers if the area code is from L.A, NYC or D.C., as the majority of our national reporters will connect from these regions. If you choose to send all unknown calls to voicemail, make sure to listen immediately and respond as soon as possible.

  1. Continue to submit events for publicity.

Yes, events are being cancelled at a feverish pace right now, but that won’t be the case forever. The industry will bounce back and prospective clients will be turning to blogs and publications to inspiration and guidance. 

If you find yourself with additional time to work on your event business in the next few weeks, allocate a portion of time to reviewing your strongest work from your portfolio in the last year, and commit to submitting them to event industry sites and magazines. Start with two to three of your favorite celebrations and begin to gather the appropriate elements--professional event-day images, background on the celebration itself, and a comprehensive list of the creative partners involved. If you are new to event submissions, Two Bright Lights has a wealth of free education to help guide you. 

Remember: These are trying times for our industry, but you are in a position as it stands to help control the message that goes out.

Meghan Ely is the owner of wedding PR and wedding marketing firm OFD Consulting. Ely is a sought-after speaker, adjunct professor in the field of public relations, and a self-professed royal wedding enthusiast.


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