MOZCON 2021 – Lessons in Surviving the Covid News Agenda and What it Means for the Future of Digital PR – Shannon McGuirk

Shannon McGuirk (Client Services & Delivery Director, Aira) recently spoke at MozCon regarding the lessons that were learned during the COVID-19 news agenda, and how it will shape the landscape of digital PR in the future.

How the Pandemic Affected Aiva

Shannon highlighted how during the first two weeks of the lockdown, Aira had seen a 50% loss of revenue, but by April they had acquired a big project from a popular brand. By September, Aira had their staff back at full potential and November was one of the highest-grossing revenue months they had ever seen. While this was promising, the company was still down. Shannon’s role as the head of PR was to try to discover new ways to attract traffic and links, while as the Director, the main objective was to ensure Aira got through this difficult time.

The News Agenda Challenges

Unfortunately, these issues went far beyond Aira, due to the pandemic and the fears of the vaccine, lockdowns, COVID deniers, etc., the news agenda was facing unprecedented challenges. At Aira, almost 74% of campaigns were paused – something all news agencies were facing. Forward planning became almost impossible, and Shannon and the Aira team were forced to adopt a reactive mindset. While this change was working, it didn’t change the fact that 44% of journalists were still not working. This put extra pressure on the team and made them drive to push links even harder.

Put A Spin on It

To push links and stories, the need to create a bigger spin on stories and come up with bolder headlines increased. Aira and much of the industry had to take the risk of sacrificing quality in favor of quick launches. And it is working, but a danger that was mentioned was the potential for a repetitive news cycle without much substance.

There were also concerns that Google would not favor this new technique – how long could it keep going?

The Three-Tier Solution

Aira created a three-pronged solution – ideation, production, and promotion – that would help any PR agency survive this ever-changing news agenda, while also producing quality and relevancy at the same time.

Ideation (The ROR Framework) centers around having a great idea. Every great idea should boast relevancy, opinion, and resolution. What about theme versus topic? Be sure to have both, and then overlap them on Buzzsumo and Reddit to create important ideas. Be sure to include your brand’s option.

Production is important, and much of the budget should go to outreach and getting eyes on your stories. Interactive formats work best, while static images and GIFs also work well. Quizzes, long-forms, and surveys were the less effective of the formats.

While Shannon didn’t cover the 101s of promotion, what do it if you can’t launch was something that was discussed. A great tactic can be to evaluate news and social media to see how big a story is. If you see high trending topics, in almost all cases it will appear in the press. Taking charge of what to cover and what not is important; communicating with clients/stakeholders regarding this process is equally as important.

The Takeaway

While this session’s purpose was to highlight and show how Aira pushed through in “survival mode,” never forget that creating authentic campaigns, staying true to brand values, and focusing on quality and relevance will position an agency to succeed.

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