A few things to consider before pitching a COVID-19 story

I’m not an expert in crisis management, but I can recognize bad taste when I see it

In recent weeks, the novel coronavirus has permeated nearly every aspect of our lives, from the work we do, to the food we buy, to the simple things we’ve tended to take for granted, like leaving our homes and socializing.

Even the stories I write that are ostensibly not about the virus are always — somehow — about the virus.

When we look back at this moment in time, the sheer ubiquity of the topic will, perhaps, be its defining characteristic. And while we flirt with notions of escapism, the fact of the matter is that we’ll never fully get away from COVID-19 until it is completely eradicated.

Among the constant and mostly unwanted reminders in my own life is my work inbox. I’m being pitched coronavirus-related stories dozens of times a day at this point, running the gamut from the tasteful and thoughtful to the cringe-inducing. In the early days of the outbreak, when I first began receiving these pitches, they all sort of felt as though they were being done in bad taste.

Pitching against tragedy is not an uncommon practice in public relations. Like online content generators that juice SEO with trending buzzwords, the phenomenon is a common one amongst many PR reps. And frankly, by the time the realities of COVID-19 came to our shores, the isolated act of including references to the pandemic in a pitch no longer felt crass in the same way. COVID-19 is our reality now, and will be for a while. Perhaps it follows, then, that it will also bear mentions in the pitches that cross our inboxes.

I’m not an expert in communications or crisis management. And the extent of my work in PR was a few months fresh out of college, when I took a freelance writing gig to help keep my head above water in New York City. I hated it, and, frankly, I was probably extremely bad at it.

While I know enough now to recognize a distasteful pitch when I see it, I was curious how people in the public relations industry navigate the question. I reached out to handful of reps I’ve generally had a good experience with and asked how they best do their work when the world around them is falling apart at the seams.