Businesses up and down the country are facing their own challenges during the current Coronavirus crisis and spending on PR and marketing is being scrutinised like all other budgets. However, at such challenging and uncertain times as these, an effective internal and external communications strategy has never been more important. Phil Hall, chairman of PR agency The PHA Group, discusses why and how to get your communications right at this crucial time:
Why is it important for businesses to show confidence in times of crisis?
“In a crisis, the country needs assured, thoughtful leadership, and businesses are no different. Communicating effectively with your customer base has never been so important. And for brands, there are also opportunities to be had. As we increasingly self-isolate at home, media consumption has gone through the roof including social media, online and print newspapers, broadcast, blogs, forums and chatrooms. Consumers want to stay informed and look to familiar brands and spokespeople for reassurance. Offering insightful and useful new content shows your brand is a modern, industry leader showing confidence when others aren’t – you’re still open for business!
“Understandably however, brands across the world have paused marketing activity, reining in their ad spend in an effort to protect the business. Coca-Cola, for example, announced it would stop all Q2 marketing in the UK. But history tells us you should be less Coca-Cola and more Kellogg’s. In the Great Depression, the cereal brand doubled its marketing and communications budget and came out the other side with a profit increase of almost 30%, setting it on course to be the industry’s dominant player today. Brands who maintain marketing spend during turbulent times see a long-term benefit on their brand equity and share of voice. Think ahead of the curve now and the rebound will be faster and more productive.”
How can you keep consumers engaged during the current crisis?
“The 24-hour news channels and front pages are all dominated by Coronavirus. As you’d expect, consumers are looking for escape and are desperate for a sense of normality. Brands can play their part by maintaining their social channels and communications and by sharing informative, education, inspirational and engaging content.
“If businesses can show a ‘human side’, by engaging in and effectively promoting relevant CSR efforts and real-life case studies as well as by communicating how they are supporting their employees and customers, they could capture an engaged audience and drive positive recognition in the long run.
“Equally, brands who think outside the box, can offer some light relief in dark times. With reduced footfall on high streets and a restriction on social gatherings, brands need to think differently about how they can keep visibility high. Think carefully about where else your consumer base is active. Beyond the national newspapers, there are many other media titles – consumer, lifestyle, fashion, beauty, food, homes, etc – that need their pages filling, not only for current issues but for future ones too, when lockdown restrictions have eased. There are also great opportunities to tap into live streaming trends, video sites, gaming and esports as virtual reality becomes the new reality.”
How can you avert reputational crises by managing critics and why is it important to get on the front foot and address consumer concerns?
“Crises have a habit of bringing out the best and worst in us. Everyone is under enormous pressure and we either make decisions we later regret or we instead spot the opportunities to emerge from the chaos with our reputations enhanced. The current pandemic has shown some good and bad examples of how to manage a crisis from Joe Wicks to Wetherspoons. The range of different reactions highlight the variety of sectors and the different ways they’re each being affected.
“It’s no failure to admit you don’t have the perfect solution to your individual business challenges – we’re in unchartered waters and there’s no one size-fits-all approach. That mindset should inform how you communicate to staff, partners, investors, suppliers and customers. In times of crisis, a little humility goes far. You can’t resolve everything, but you can demonstrate awareness of the problems and show effort to address them.
“It’s important to keep communicating this where appropriate, no matter how tempting it is to just stay silent. A transparent approach, providing what information you can step by step, helps reduce uncertainty and increase empathy, creating more breathing space. A targeted approach to your internal and external communications, including tailored messages to your different audiences, also shows an awareness and support for their individual concerns.”
Article written by Phil Hall, chairman of The PHA Group
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