A Vice Publicist’s Perspective
By Melissa A Vitale
The Corona-craze has taken over airwaves, broadcast, social media, statured meme-culture and curated a new set of social norms in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a publicist who has worked in wellness, hospitality, transportation, luxury, fashion and beauty, I would think of all the industries that exist, Vice communications would be the least disrupted by the Coronavirus buzz.
Every business is being impacted as the number of infected multiples by the hour; physical retail, hospitality, dining & event spaces are seeing red at the end of each day; Consumer packaged goods brands are struggling to keep their supplies as imports are delayed through customs checks; and for specifically social and intimate categories like sex wellness and legal cannabis, eyes are on the budding industries’ response to the pandemic.
While it’ll be weeks or even months before we can fully discern exactly the impact of the coronavirus on all areas of industry, there have been noticeable trends in the past week since the craze broke.
The media industry is ripe of unexpected effects as a result of the corona virus. With cancelled itinerary and travel, writers and editors have had more time for story ideas outside of industry events. There has been a higher volume of stories coming through media both with a focus on the virus and to curate evergreen stories that audiences want to see between CDC reports. In the past week, response rates to pitches has increased, and with a higher volume of stories written, the need for more sources has skyrocketed. Unsurprisingly, press have been seeking lifestyle stories focused around the virus, such as Tips for Working from Home and How to Stay Active In Your Apartment. I personally have been pitching CBD as a solution to chapped hands from over-washing and staying at home to masturbate and pamper as a solution to corona-based social-anxiety. There has yet to be any slowdown in sample requests and press events for later in the month are still receiving RSVPs. Meetings so far have yet to be cancelled unless someone has been sick though more people are double-confirming wellness before meeting.
Sex Wellness Brands & Professionals
Like anyone who relies on physical interaction to do their jobs, Independent sex coaches and experts, sex workers and other industry professionals are worried about long term stability if the pandemic rages on for months. Already consumer pleasure product brands are facing delays in product imports from overseas. While some hold-ups are quickly remedied resulting in little more than increased product demand, many brands are shifting their business model to exclude models that take longer to reach the US than others.
Vice Category Brands
Cannabis dining and consumption events have been cancelled across the board. Cannabis Brands were expected to hit SXSW this year in a massive recognition of the budding industry; SXSW’s cancellation was a huge blow to those of us who were so thrilled to see such a legitimate milestone in cannabis’ consumer history. Just like consumer pleasure brands, Cannabis brands are facing delays in product imports from overseas with many brands shifting their business model to exclude models that take longer to reach the US.
As I predicted when I first drafted this article four days ago, sex toy sales have increased. But so have legal cannabis sales. It seems that everyone is stocking up not just on cold-medicine and toilet paper, but also vibrators and vape pens.
Events & Social Spaces
As their Publicist and Communications Director, it’s no secret that I am actively involved with The New Society for Wellness (NSFW), a private members club for the adventurous. Something that was unexpected in the wake of the pandemic was the number of media outlets requesting comment on what NSFW was doing to combat concerns. I mean, I get it: “Coronavirus” & “Sex Club” in a headline will draw in clicks in for sure. In some cases, we were asked questions that only CDC officials could answer. Walking through my grocery store, I’ve been seeing consumers touching their mouths and then touching products before moving on. Though we appreciate that everyone has heightened concerns during the outbreak, I’m shocked to the standard an events space has been held to compared to public spaces that sick people are more likely to pass through.
Events during the immediate next two weeks across all industries have been cancelled either due to fear of virus or low attendance from self-quarantining. Events later in the season are still receiving RSVPs though more questions about potential cancellations has arisen. Almost all events are cancelled through early April with those remaining on the calendar expected to be cancelled in the coming weeks.
With its social nature, consumer cannabis use has seen the biggest shift in this pandemic. Many people are opting to bring their own and declining to share. I was recently interviewed as a regular cannabis user about my concerns surrounding smoking weed during corona. Specifically, I was asked if I’m worried about all the people who handle my bud before it reaches me. While I wish I had the luxury of more controlled (aka legal) channels of obtaining my plant medicine, to think about everyone who comes in contact with my cannabis would be to think about everyone who touched the ATM before me, or used the MTA turnstile since it was last cleaned, or everyone who almost bought that apple I’m about to buy. Frankly, I consume too much cannabis for those details and instead, opt to not touch my face and wash my hands obsessively.
Dating & Relationships
I haven’t seen cumulative numbers across all brands, but I would predict that sex toy sales have increased–though with many brands wholesaling from Asia where import delays are the highest, this may lead to more trouble for brands. Many people are staying in; parties and spaces are closing so many dates consist of Netflix & Chill. Those without regular partners have been getting better acquainted with their vibrator collections in favor of trekking to a bar for a tinder date or taking a subway to a dick appointment. Cuffing season has always been a big pitch topic for publicists because people usually tend to stay in more this time of year anyways, though coronavirus has catapulted that trend to universality.
I'll be frank: it's a scary time for a legal cannabis and sex positive brand. Every industry and business is facing delays, loss of revenue and potential added costs of missed work; Sex and Cannabis brands don't have the same protections as say, a restaurant or a retail center. I've already had some brands who've told me that Corona could be the end of their run. Vice brands are barely scraping by as it is. Corona-craze could cripple them.
But those same brands who worry that this may be the hurdle to shutter their doors, are also looking positive. We hope one day, a decade from now, we look back and laugh about the time Corona almost killed sex and cannabis.
Again, it’ll be some time before we can fully gauge the socio-cultural impact of COVID-19 but already, the craze has infiltrated the vice market in a matter of weeks. In short, the Coronavirus will definitely have a chapter in my memoir of working in a time when Sex & Drugs were illegal.
Right now, we're only just beginning to grasp the overall severity of the coronavirus. There will be economic repercussions for months, potentially years, to come. Something we have to remember is that any resulting financial fall outs are worth the risk for the safety of the world population. The goal is that in months to come we look back at all the precautions and empty bottles of lysol satisfied with a contained spread of a still very unknown virus.
Seriously, wishing everyone safety through the stress and alarm and energy and hustle through the isolation.
Melissa A Vitale Public Relations
A public relations agency specializing in brands and startups in artificial intelligence, sexual wellness and legal cannabis.