Food for Thought: What Media Want You to Know About Food Reporting During COVID-19

Over the past few weeks, the COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped our lives along with the way the media tell their stories. For those media covering the dynamic food industry, their plates have literally and figuratively changed—from how they’re covering the U.S. food supply to giving their readers ideas for home cooking. This also means PR professionals must navigate the best ways to serve up story ideas that make sense.

In a recent webinar, Ketchum hosted a panel of food journalists, including Kimberly Holland of Allrecipes, Megan Poinski of Food Dive, Elizabeth Crawford of FoodNavigator-USA, and Jeanne Sidner of Taste of Home, who all shed light on the changing media landscape in the face of this disruption—and how they continue to deliver the important stories. Here are some key takeaways:

  • Please don’t self-censor: Food journalists do want to hear from us. While COVID-19 may be dominating the news cycle—and unfolding in different ways every day—food journalists continue to cover other important news. PR professionals and companies can help them deliver these stories by reaching out with fresh and exciting new products, ideas and trends. Likewise, only draw a connection to the current COVID-19 landscape if there’s a natural, authentic tie. In other words, skip the “forced” connection.
  • Problem-solution storytelling breaks through: We’re all navigating a quickly changing and uncertain world. Journalists, too, actively look to uncover and tell solutions-oriented stories, such as, “What’s the best way to store food?” and “What should I know about food prep right now?” Other impactful stories could include food companies and emerging brands that proactively share their new business models, or creative solutions to help people more easily manage their meals … and lives.
  • Make connections for journalists: Instead of asking, “How can we work together right now?” journalists are looking to PR professionals to help make connections for them, and to consider how what they are pitching is going to help their audience during this time. This includes bringing assets—like qualitative data, experts and images—to the forefront.
  • Food is an escape: Whether it’s a recipe you’re trying for the first time or a new product you are testing out, food is providing a much-needed escape and reminder that the world around us is still happening. There is an appetite for this type of storytelling, including how celebrating holidays like Easter and Passover will shift this year, along with highlighting new product launches, especially ones that are available online.
  • News is news: While we all keep tabs on the current news cycle, audiences are still hungry to consume other stories. Food journalists are tuning in to what’s coming next. Think new food products to look forward to in the coming months, or industry partnerships that will open new and different channels for food businesses. In fact, some food outlets are seeing that their most heavily visited content are these “other” news stories.
  • Be patient: While it’s business as usual with pitches being monitored and assessed, we need to be patient and mindful of how we are conducting follow-up. While a pitch might not land now, there might be another opportunity down the line, or one more fitting for a colleague from an affiliated publication/brand to cover.
  • Rules of engagement: As the world around us changes, so do some of the ways we are interacting with journalists. For instance, mailers or product samples should only be sent upon request, and journalists stressed that they’re figuring out some of these guidelines and protocols as they go. They’re responding to what is and isn’t working to better inform our approach to engage with them.

In a nutshell, media relations is always about truly knowing the right time and right story for outreach, a reality further heightened by the added complexity of COVID-19. If you would like to know more, please contact Jen Reinhard or Erica Saviano Tsioutas.

Erica serves as a Vice President, Media Group Manager within Ketchum’s Media Specialty team. In her role, Erica provides strategic counsel and media relations for a variety of consumer, food  and lifestyle clients. She is passionate about marrying pop culture and lifestyle trends to craft strong consumer story lines.