PR & COMMUNICATIONS IN TIMES OF COVID-19
2020. The year that will be remembered for coronavirus (COVID-19). The virus that caused Tsunami sized havoc and destruction to personal lives and businesses all over the world. The virus that will no doubt change the way we live and work forever.
I am writing this on day 9 of Self Isolation (SI), having completed my first working week with the whole family at home. A week that combined home schooling, running my PR business and supporting my husband so he could run his business too. Like most self-employed, in these extraordinary times of readjustment, we’ve found the first week of ‘lockdown’ challenging, scary, heart-breaking and exhausting. But at the same time, it has been humbling to step off life’s treadmill, grateful for every day we wake up feeling well too.
I’ve worked in Public Relations for over twenty years now, with half of those years spent working consumer-side on big brands for those ‘big’ London agencies.
I’ve always been passionate about PR and the integral role of strategic communications in the growth of brands and business. Since graduating with a BA (Hons) in Public Relations from Leeds Beckett University in my early twenties, I’ve been a communications nerd, embracing its ever evolving landscape over the years, as a result of tech.
Never losing the art of what makes a good story, I’ve kept current on how consumers (with shorter attention spans than ever) want to receive and engage with news. For me it’s never been about spin. It’s been about transparency, creativity, ‘big ideas’ that don’t need big budget, ‘PR with Purpose’ and being as reactive as possible in a fast-paced, consumer-focused, capitalistic world. The staples in these times of instant social media posting, rolling and clickbait news.
I launched Wilderness PR 4.5 years ago after moving to East Sussex, using my expertise and knowledge to work for smaller businesses and start-ups, passionately helping them grow and reach out to the consumer audiences they want to engage and connect with.
At the end of last year, I was asked by a London agency to go back and work for them for a few weeks. An interesting experience for many reasons, if anything to confirm that big budget can’t buy success. There are still fundamentals of PR and comms that need to be at the forefront of any successful campaign. And also the right skills to facilitate it. One good PR campaign, executed well and timely placed, will give the company or brand positive momentum for months. A few badly executed pieces of PR, could potentially be the worst thing for a company or brand forever. Throw money at a bad idea, it will never work. Today’s consumers are savvier than ever. If they feel they are being overtly marketed to, they will move on quickly. #besubliminal #fcuk.
Whatever size business, there has never been a need for more clear, concise and effective communications. And as the saying goes, ‘You cannot control what happens to you, but you can control what you do about it.’
With this in mind, please find below a list of PR and communication advice I hope will help any consumer facing business - whatever size – in these unprecedented times:
Fluidity: Today’s stance will be tomorrow’s backward glance. Be prepared to react appropriately when required, but also be prepared to react differently tomorrow if the situation dictates. I read a lot of corporate advice about companies having ‘set-in-stone’ comms in place. In these fast paced times, it’s better to save energy for standby. Be as much, if not more, of an expert in reactive communications then proactive communications.
Transparency: What is your concern, and for whom? Don’t be afraid to say sorry. Empathy is key to how you react, resolve and reunite.
Pedestal your stakeholders and help others: In these times, do what’s right for your audiences and stakeholders, not what is right for you and your business. This really is fundamental. You look after them in these times, they will look after you when normal business resumes.
Don’t panic: This is happening to ALL of us and we really are in this together. This is the only thought that truly rebalances my cortisol when I wake up in the morning.
PR with Purpose: What so many of the BIG budget PR campaigns are missing right now is purpose. FACT. If you can use these times to push a purpose alongside the brand then consumers will love you and brand performance will be off the scale. The world needs great ideas - ones that matter and solve real problems for real people. Get it right and you harness loyalty, culture, brand endurance and momentum. This point is perfectly illustrated by Joe Wick’s recent announcement of donating all his advertising revenue generated by his current daily online work outs to the NHS. Boom!
Don’t be dormant: It’s better to communicate then not communicate at all.
Be social: If used in the right way, never underestimate the power of social media - Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok. Businesses don’t need all of these platforms, but if you had to choose one of them, then focus on Instagram. With all social media platforms, it’s as much about interacting as it is about posting. Build on your social media community in these times with cracking content. Algorithms are everything right now. You will be thankful you did this when it’s business as usual again.
Collaborate: Creatively partner with other businesses that share the same audiences and COVID-19 compliant methods of sales and distribution. Pool resources and amplify.
Adapt: Situations evolve day-to-day, so approach needs to be more chameleon than statue. Think outside the box. Creativity really is key to success. Sometimes the simplest ideas executed in the right way to engage audiences are the best. If the idea needs overthinking then it’s not right and you need to ditch it.
Be kind: That’s all. No explanation needed.
Crisis situations can pose risks to companies, but they can also provide opportunities. It’s important to use these times to strengthen and reinforce relationships with the audiences that matter most.
Most importantly, keep calm and carry on communicating.