Marketing & Strategy, Public Relations, Public Relations & Crisis Management

Five Ways to Use PR to Forge Ahead in the Middle of a Pandemic

By: Stephanie Ceccarelli, Vice President, Public Relations

A PR Campaign’s Coronavirus Survival Kit

As we witness the stock market’s manic ebb and flow and brands working overtime to pivot as quickly as the news cycle spins while continuing to navigate a world of “limited capacity,” it’s easy to believe that your messaging will not reverberate in a way that’s impactful for your brand’s goals and objectives. But before you give up on all your hard work developing a detailed plan, here are five ways to modify your PR campaign and help ensure you can continue to generate positive awareness for your brand:

1. Assess Familiarize yourself as quickly as possible with the crisis. Identify who it’s impacting and how. Understand specifically what the implications are for your target audience. In this case, everyone, across all sectors, is being impacted. Take the time to research exactly how your target audience is being affected. What are their new needs, challenges, and losses? This understanding may help crystallize for you how to pivot your messaging and goals in a sensitive and productive manner.

2. Monitor – If you work in PR, for instance, you are already voraciously consuming more news than the average person. During a crisis, pay even more attention. Watch the news cycle closely, and not just your favorite sites and channels. Make the effort to have a healthy sense of how all media is covering this crisis. Every news cycle has a natural ebb and flow and although this crisis has much more flow than ebb, keeping a close eye on the coverage will enable you to know when the tide is turning, even if only for a moment. So, while you would not want to make any big announcements during a particularly intense phase of the news cycle, there may be opportunity to do so during a more uneventful time. If you have done the work to truly understand how the news cycle is moving, you will be better poised to accurately assess what media wants and when.

3. Inform Tread carefully with the desire to inform on the crisis and understand who you feel compelled to inform. Is the need for internal or external communication or both? Unless you’re a member of a public health organization like the CDC or WHO, it’s not your job to play armchair quarterback regarding medical advice or speculation on how this will play out or what should be considered next steps. And you should be advising your teams against this approach as well. Furthermore, virtually every business with any kind of staff has had to inform them of newly implemented remote protocols and/or heightened precautions and should be done so following public health organization guidelines. If you have staff on the front lines of this pandemic, media will likely want to know what steps are being taken to protect these individuals. Carefully develop language spotlighting the various new systems or protocols being implemented and any precautions being taken, but again, in compliance with public health organization guidelines. Unless you work in the healthcare industry and are looking to inject your perspective into the national conversation, be sure to carefully consider any color commentary regarding the current state of affairs. At a time when misinformation is widely regarded as the pandemic within the pandemic, position yourself as part of the solution, not the problem. Stick with what you know.

4. Give – Amid any crisis, people are fearful and may at times feel helpless, particularly those most negatively impacted. Identify where the most immediate needs are and quickly determine if it makes sense for your brand to try and help in some way. For example, early on in the pandemic, IBM donated 15,000 surgical masks to Valley Medical Center Foundation in Santa Clara, CA, Apple donated 10 million masks to healthcare workers in the U.S., and U-Haul provided 30 days of free storage to any college student in need. Locally, MGM Resorts partnered with food banks and local organizations in eight states to distribute 480,000 pounds of food — equivalent to 400,000 meals — to those in need. In addition to the food donations, MGM Resorts pledged $1 million of disaster relief into an employee emergency grant fund to help employees pay bills and cover unexpected expenses. On a large scale or small one, a charitable contribution in the middle of a crisis is a meaningful way to endear your client’s brand to the community at large, and something to consider on an ongoing basis anyway. Be sure to develop a creative strategy and tactful messaging in support of any philanthropic initiative for the best results.

5. Get Creative – While it’s no secret we are all navigating an unprecedented and devastating moment in history, it’s worth reminding ourselves that this too shall pass. When businesses were forced to close, local and national restaurants, for example, banded together to ask people to support the restaurant industry by ordering takeout. Participants were asked to post on social media and use the hashtag #GreatAmericanTakeout to help spread the word. Subscription box, Birchbox partnered with hospitals across the country to donate 45,000 beauty boxes to healthcare workers. To promote self-care and help reduce anxiety during the coronavirus outbreak, athletic apparel retailer, Lululemon began offering a variety of free yoga, workout, and meditation classes throughout its online community and attached the hashtag #thesweatlife. They also offered mediation practice playlists on SoundCloud. As with any time of conflict, the need for creativity during this time of uncertainty is not only crucial for survival, but a unique opportunity to showcase your brand’s capabilities.

While it may seem as if the ground is shifting beneath us, this pandemic has also leveled us in so many ways. So, now is not the time to shy away from challenges, instead confront them head-on – responsibly, with empathy and a flexible and creative mindset. As a result, you may well find that your PR campaign emerges from this stronger than before. Connect with us today to learn how we can help grow your business.

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