by Lucy Render-Kaplan | Featured Contributor
Public Relations is most often the team quickest to respond to (unexpected) situations clients may find themselves in. Because of this, PR is often looked at as the quickest-to-respond communications department. Brands will be remembered for a long time depending on how they act during this crisis and how they are perceived. People are seeking answers and help and brands that can provide this in a sincere and well-informed manner will be the ones that come out of this the strongest.
You do not want to be remembered as the brand that is sending out sales newsletters for luxury vacations no one can take or hash jacking the #Covid19 tag just to garner higher opening rates. Leading with empathy and acknowledging that most people have lost their jobs or may be about to, should be your guiding principle.
It is nearly impossible to tune out of the constant news cycle covering the Corona Virus. The news is dominated by it and analysis, speculation and rumors are rampant on social media. As more states this week extended their stay at home order for another month, both brands and members of the media need to begin to plan for a longer “abnormal” time.
So, what does this mean for brands that rely on news mentions? Or for reporters and outlets that do not want to ignore the pandemic, but also still have deadlines on news outside of Covid-19? Editors know that while they are still the first line for conveying what the public needs to know, they also recognize that readers’ focuses are changing, and now they are looking for entertaining and uplifting stories more than ever before. The media is looking for stories that give readers even a slight respite from the stress of all of this, and it’s up to us, as PR professionals, to provide those stories.
You may have better luck with local news. Stories about neighbors helping neighbors, food pantries available for those who cannot shop or have lost work, even shout outs to small businesses offering new services – deliveries, masks…think local when looking at what you are looking to pitch.
Keep in mind – no matter how much research you have done to deeply understand your current and potential audience, consumers’ priorities are changing rapidly to try to get a handle on their new normal. People are stuck at home for the foreseeable future and social activities that once filled families’ calendars are now blank spaces. There is an incredible amount of lost work, and daily we are given lists of festivals, sports events and cultural events that are being cancelled. While PR pros are certainly in a scramble to try their best at moving as many of these events online, the reality is most will be cancelled for the remainder of 2020.
What this means, is that more traditional events become more meaningful. Birthdays, Mother’s Day, and events as such will need to be planned as they never have before. This gives PR pros the opportunity to get creative and showcase how these events do not need to be sad days, but new ways of coming together for celebration.
Here are some tips to help guide your PR efforts during this time of crisis:
HELP. Then Help More.
No matter your situation, you still have the capability to help others. Yes, some of your clients may provide products or services that in no way can be made relevant to help during this epidemic.
That does not mean your clients cannot be of assistance to others. Depending on your industry, the ways to help will differ.
Perhaps you can organize team members to wear company shirts and help deliver meals to seniors (while always maintaining social distance and protection). You may be able to donate a percentage of profits to a charity assisting in Covid-19 care or research. Maybe you can utilize your platforms to offer tips on making working from home, homeschooling, or ways to stay healthy is something your audience would appreciate seeing you offer.
Yes, some of these ideas will not bring in revenue right away. However, the more trust you can build, the more consumers will think of your brand in a positive light when they are ready to make a purchase.
Strengthen Your Thought Leadership
While this is an ongoing goal for all public relations pros, now is an even better time to focus on employees you can offer as experts in their field. This helps your brand stay in the public eye despite any cancellations or postponements of scheduled launches or announces.
Look at having your clients write blogs on their websites, find guest blogging opportunities to grow a new audience or consider placing professionally written op-ed pieces that your clients have written on news sites. People have more time to read longer content than they may have had before so do not worry about TLDR.
Social Media is Better Than Ever
Marketers have been rejoicing (and complaining less about tricky algorithms!) as people are spending much more time on their computers and smartphones. Fear, feelings of isolation and craving to connect has elevated the use and importance of social media. It is a great time to engage with your customers where they are; learning how their needs and wants may have changed, finding out what questions they aren’t finding answers to that your brand can provide and ensuring you’re spending more time on producing content they want to see, over what your brand would like to get across. This will mean less posts about any new funding or showcasing people using your brand in ways and in locations they will not be able to replicate for the foreseeable future.
Now is the absolute time to rethink your messaging. We would recommend pausing pre-scheduled social media posts. Take the time to review each one and evaluate if it is appropriate or helpful considering our current situation. That is not to say you must scrap all the work you have done. Perhaps it just means putting certain content on hold. Before every post, we recommend asking yourself:
- Is this necessary currently? Relevant?
- Is this helpful?
- Is this empathetic, inclusive and kind?
Where some brands have struggled with being transparent and 100% honest on social media, for fear of looking weak, or nerves or just not feeling comfortable with being “themselves” on social, it’s of utmost importance now. It may just take reframing your thinking – it has never been easy to be forced to layoff people because of COVID-19. The public is seeking information on how brands are internally responding to difficulties. You will find your brand earns respect with honestly and publicly addressing your brand’s struggles. Have you had to close an office? Reduce your workforce? Cancel orders? The faster you can honestly communicate this information to customers, the more they will respect you for being open and transparent.
The worst thing you can do is ignore the crisis and pretend you are conducting business as usual. This comes across as tone-deaf.
We all pray this COVID-19 pandemic ends quickly, but it is how your brand responds now that will determine how they fare in the future. Remember – brands are human. Customers are human. Everyone has new fears and stress and will benefit the most from thoughtful and helpful communication.