In this current climate, knowing how to communicate to the press or customers isn't straightforward. Covid-19 has had a profound impact on all our lives and shocked us all.
Even the most prepared of brands are unlikely to have foreseen recent events and developed a marketing crisis plan to follow during this pandemic, mainly because these situations are so unpredictable and hard to mitigate.
Worldwide lockdown measures are heavily impacting many industries such as lifestyle, hospitality, travel and education. We are truly living in unprecedented times!
Is there such a thing as a PR pandemic strategy? Technically yes, but it's likely to feed into a wider business strategy. Centred on being authentic and adaptable, businesses are having to make difficult decisions, even pivoting their proposition completely.
One thing’s for sure, PR activity should continue during this pandemic. So I’ll touch upon what’s working at the moment, and then what we can do to prepare for an inevitable rebound by the end of 2020 or beginning of 2021. We don’t know when we will go back to normal, or even what the new normal will look like, but what we do know is that this will pass eventually. So, are you prepared?
What will work at the moment?
Before we go into strategy and preparation for a rebound, it’s important to understand what is working at the moment, so we can continue to acquire coverage and generate results.
Do not stop PR, as your audience still wants and needs to hear from you. Plus, editors still need news stories outside of the pandemic to share with their audience.
The main change I’m noticing and experiencing is that planned content might need to be adapted slightly. The hook and angles of your content will most likely still be relevant, as they were created for a purpose and need to be promoted. But there is a shift in focus to more reactive PR opportunities. Being timely and part of the online conversation is now taking more of the PR pie, and through newsjacking, Journo Requests, and current affairs updates, there is a wealth of promotion opportunities.
Why this focus? Well, people’s lives have changed, and we’re all learning how to do new things. People are spending more time online and browsing social media, and from a PR perspective, my advice is to shift your focus from brand promotion and instead look at ways that you can genuinely help and support your audience through timely advice and comment.
The other element to consider is that consumers are trying new things, such as online entertainment, online consultations, and online fitness groups. We need to pay attention to these changes in consumer mindsets, and it needs to be reflected in our marketing and comms. You might want to consider a little focus on home occasion marketing, seeing as we're all self-isolating.
Another important consideration is that brands continue to appear to be authentic, and this authenticity needs to be a thread through all external comms. A recent study from Kantar revealed that 75% of people want to know how brands are reacting to the current pandemic. And another 78% are urging brands to take care of their employees during this time. So be transparent and honest - your audience will appreciate it and remember the approach you took.
If you need to refresh your whole strategy right now, then start by asking these questions:
- Is coronavirus impacting my audience? If so, how? And can I help them?
- Will my audience’s priorities shift as a result of the current climate? How should my outreach content and messaging change to reflect that?
- Does coronavirus impact our own product/service offering, and if so, how can we communicate that to our audience?
Your answers to these questions can help you identify if you have content that needs adjusting, or if you need to add or adjust content to your schedule.
The good news is that web browsing is up by 70% and social media usage up by 61% since the coronavirus pandemic started. This means that your audience is more present than ever before, but you need to get in front of them.
What will work post-pandemic?
I like to think that this period will allow in-house PROs and PR agencies to get their houses in order and be ready to push on post-pandemic. There are going to be rebound sectors, and Kantar shared those sectors that picked up in China. These included:
Obviously, there are cultural differences, but these trends can inform your strategy moving forwards.
So, what do brands and PR professionals need to do to get ready for rebound sectors? There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to PR and there are varying factors depending on the market. But risk management in PR, and the wider business, amongst others, focuses on two relevant factors, which are:
- Adaptation: Are there new ways of working so we can adapt as the scenarios change?
- Resilience: Are our processes and decision-making resilient to help move with uncertainty?
So build your PR plans with these factors in mind, as well as taking into account new consumer and business habits.
It’s also worth mentioning that it shouldn’t be all doom and gloom. There are unique opportunities for brands and PRs in this crisis. It could be a good time to make changes that were being put off.
Here are some actions to consider to make sure you are ready to hit the ground running.
- Get your case studies in these ‘rebound’ sectors ready to go. Show success, and if you can, value for money. This includes new testimonials for your creds doc.
- Build your trust points across all channels. Reviews strategy to gather 5 stars across TrustPilot, Google, Reviews.co.uk, or your preferred tool. Look to grow your social profiles, and put in place a growth strategy. You also need to be shouting about your success more than ever.
- Refresh your customer persona docs in line with the 'new normal'.
- Refresh your on- and off-site blogging strategy in line with these upcoming sectors/new personas.
- Keep doing excellent work and getting good coverage.
- It’s important that brands don't lose sight of the short and long term strategies, so keep these at the forefront of your PR work.
- Invest in professional development and innovation.
Customers might not be ready to spend now, but when they are, you need to be at the forefront of their minds.
Written by Alex Jones, PR director at agency Motive PR.
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