Your top 10 PR lessons from the pandemic

The Covid crisis has taught PR professionals many lessons about good (and bad) ways to do comms. Here they share what they have learnt.

1. You can thrive in times of adversity

Karen Winterhalter, managing director at marketing communications agency Onyx Health: “One of the big things I’ve learnt is to treat the Covid-19 crisis as an opportunity to thrive. Applying a Covid-19 lens to our PR content has been vital to keeping our clients in the headlines in a news cycle reshaped by the pandemic. Getting this right is a delicate balancing act and must be delivered using strong news values and authenticity. Trying to jump on the Covid-19 bandwagon will damage your credibility with journalists.“

2. Embrace digital innovations

Karen Winterhaller: “Communication has transitioned online in the wake of the pandemic, leading to overcrowding in the digital space. To stand out from the crowd, businesses need to offer new innovative digital experiences with enhanced engagement and interactivity. By embracing cutting-edge 3D digital technology and the latest virtual reality and augmented reality techniques, businesses can offer a new kind of immersive digital engagement to their customers. Off-the-shelf digital solutions need to be off the agenda.”

3. Have a clear, concise comms strategy

Daisy Pledge, account director at marketing agency Grammatik GRAMMATIKAGENCY.COM: “The Covid-19 pandemic showed the importance of having a clear, concise and simple comms strategy - something the UK’s Covid response strategy sorely lacks. Although the power of simple language when communicating with the general public is not something that is new.”

4. Work towards a better future

Daisy Pledge: “Alongside Covid, we saw some incredible movements really start to take form and gain momentum - the Black Lives Matter protests and the Sarah Everard march showed how important it is to listen to what others think, feel and believe; that the opposite to right is not necessarily wrong; that we all need to grow in different ways. It was a year of reflection and learning, and now comms professionals must leverage that to reinforce our collective journey to a better, greener, and fairer future.”

5. You must move fast

Georgia Gadsby, digital PR consultant at digital PR-led search agency NORTH: “Planned campaigns have gone out the window during the pandemic. Whilst the content may be amazing, if a new lockdown has just been announced, your press release on the increase in family BBQs is being firmly put in the bin by journalists.

“I’ve learnt from the pandemic that you have to plan in other ways. If you have an inkling something is going to be big news, get a comment ready in advance so when the news breaks, all you have to do is hit send.”

6. Don’t underestimate the power of newsjacking

Georgia Gadsby: “If you didn’t spot the big news in advance, you can still jump on it as the news breaks. Newsjacking as a technique is so underestimated in terms of how many links it can bring in and how time efficient it is. It's a great alternative when your planned campaign has been knocked out of the water by a big story.”

7. Taking time out encourages creativity

Will Cooke, head of strategy and creative at communications agency M&C Saatchi Talk: “Undoubtedly there has been a certain efficiency to working from home, the regimented diaries and stream of Zooms have added focus to our days, but as an intrinsically creative industry there is a point at which efficiency comes at the cost of creative efficacy.

“Few have missed the time-sink of commuting into an office, but it is within these bored moments that we often find a spark of inspiration, creative serendipity or unexpected perspective on the world. We’ve spent the past few years fighting myopic bubbles, and yet as we’ve been physically constricted, we’ve had little choice but to return to these familiar psychological restraints.

“We’re seeing it in the work, feeling it in the briefs and sensing it in the industry’s behaviour. It’s been a slog, but as things open up, we need to champion curiosity, reward the random and take the time to be unproductive.”

8. Learn from sales teams

Richard Cook, managing director of agency Champion Communications: “All of our client briefs are about helping our clients grow, predominantly through making it easier for their sales teams to succeed.

“This means that we already had connections with business development teams within our clients, but the pandemic and lockdown made them much more accessible. And the lesson that I learnt is that PR teams can never have too much access to sales professionals.

“As a source for stories, insight into messaging and directions regarding the way third-party endorsement can help move buyers along the buyer journey, the sales teams are golden.

“The pandemic meant businesses needed to understand how every penny being spent was contributing to the bottom line. By working with sales and understanding what types of editorial coverage was most useful to them, we have been able to measure and report on the impact of coverage on the sales pipeline.”

9. Relationships with media partners matter

Ben Clark, global partnerships manager at performance endurance sports wearables maker COROS Wearables: “With physical events having been postponed in the running and outdoor industries, race reports and in-person events have become almost non-existent. The stripping away of this content has helped to highlight the important role that companies such as ours have in creating new and interesting editorial content for our media partners, providing content that helps keep their publications fresh and full of exciting new features throughout lockdown.

“This mutual recognition of a value-in-kind agreement with PR partners has led to a closer relationship, and has underlined for me the importance of the two-way relationship that exists between content creators and publishers. Whilst difficult at times, I am appreciative of the lessons and I am looking forward to meeting up with our media partners later in the year when lockdown ends.”

10. Good stories come from interesting people

Jessica Pardoe, senior PR exec at agency The Source PR: “If the coronavirus crisis has taught me anything, it’s the power of people and how much they can elevate a good story if the opportunity is there. Just look at Captain Tom, there were many fundraising efforts throughout the first lockdown, but the way in which his story was communicated and the emotional message behind it meant so many people got behind his cause and further raised the profile of the story into one of the biggest of recent times. More recently on popular radio channel Radio X, presenter Chris Moyles got his intern’s band Blyth Road, to Number #1 on the iTunes charts - this once again proved the value of people and how much that the Covid-19 pandemic has left us more empathetic with causes and good stories. This is something anyone working in PR or marketing should consider, how can you elevate your story leveraging the good nature of the public?”