Yes& was called upon to deliver this year’s 16th annual Chesapeake Bay Report Card during the COVID-19 pandemic. But the question was—how to generate media interest without a live media event?
Here are the headwinds the Yes& PR and University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) Team faced:
- Dueling Report Cards – there are three major report cards on the Bay. The EPA’s Bay Program had just released a water report the week before our press event. How would the team differentiate this “new-new” reporting?
- Boring (Not Live) Venue for Media – over the past three years, Yes& team members had created live events (one of our fortes), at the Washington, DC Wharf, in downtown Baltimore at the Inner Harbor, and at the Maritime Museum in Annapolis. Now, we were using Google Hangouts!
- Absent Media – with newsroom staff shrinking, reporters on furlough, and fewer reporters on the environmental beat, Yes& needed to find new angles and source these stories to new individuals.
- Not Necessarily the Local News - In the past, the report card press drew largely from metro DC and Baltimore, a challenging and competitive market.
- Sure, File a Lawsuit – the day before our Chesapeake Bay Report Card virtual press event, the states of Maryland and Virginia filed a suit against Pennsylvania for agricultural run-off and polluting the Susquehanna River that flows to the Bay. The lawsuit news dominated the lead stories that week. Our job was to leverage the suit— and still have the DNR and environmental directors as our sources not devolve into open revolt on our hangout.
- Esoteric Science Terms – another challenge of ecosystem reports is the in-depth scientific terms like “benthic community!” Sea life and tiny food sources come from the Greek term Benthos which means at the “depths of the sea.” Without these small organisms and plant life, the blue crab and rockfish would not thrive.
UMCES is the premier ecosystem reporting university in the world. The Maryland science applications team has provided in-depth analysis of water quality around the globe.
Yes& generated 90 million media impressions, double the number of readership and audience cumulative metric numbers from the prior year. We were able to garner Associated Press coverage out of Annapolis, CBS Baltimore, the Annapolis Capital Gazette, Washington Post and WTOP.
Here are a few lessons learned:
- Ensure chat function is monitored so speakers and presenters know the reporters are asking questions
- Remember it’s a Press Conference and not a Zoom Webinar! This virtual presser needs to be a two-way conversation
- Use virtual meeting technology to cast a wider net. We reached into Pennsylvania, New York and other Bay water source states.