Watch, Even if You Don’t Want To

Staying up on current events in the COVID-19 era can be as painful as injecting bleach.

A debate has cropped up within my personal and professional circles pitting those who have burned out on White House briefings and daily death counts against those who are determined to stay up on the news, no matter how stressful it feels. I am squarely in the second camp, and if you are a PR pro, you probably don’t have the luxury of being in the first. I’m not talking about the trades and journalists who routinely cover your industry (I assume you are still monitoring those). I’m talking about the bigger picture.

When President Trump astonished reporters and TV viewers with his stunning suggestion that injecting disinfectants into the body might kill COVID-19 (and technically it does, right along with the patient), one brand took special notice.

After the president’s remarks, Lysol found it prudent to issue a statement that said, in part, “We must be clear that under no circumstance should our disinfectant products be administered into the human body.”

I doubt anybody at Lysol realized how important it was to monitor the president’s daily news conference until that happened. Similarly, I doubt private physicians recognized the full value of breaking news alerts until their patients suddenly started asking them about the theraputic potential of Clorox.

Earlier in the week, Harvard administrators suddenly found themselves the target of public ire after the president called them out for accepting relief funds. The sooner they got word of the president’s attack, the sooner they were able to strategize.

Staying abreast of the news is the only way to maintain effective PR in these surreal times. And that doesn’t just apply to iconic brands.

When my hospital clients began receiving their first coronavirus patients, many reached out for help. Developing timely messaging would have been difficult without a pre-existing –albeit general– knowledge of the COVID-19 landscape. Was this particular hospital the first in the city with known cases? If not, what had other hospitals done when they got their own cases? What was the CDC saying about the safety of non-COVID patients in a hospital setting? Knowing in advance prevented us from having to delay our response as we scoured the internet.

I’m not trying to suggest you must have cable news running in the background at all times (though some PR pros do). But if you are inclined to tune out the news because it’s depressing and doesn’t seem to have any direct relevance to your work, you may not have that luxury.

Mark Bernheimer

Mark Bernheimer is a former CNN correspondent and the founder of MediaWorks Resource Group, an internationally renowned media training and consulting firm.