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PR and Marketing: How to Communicate During COVID-19

Posted by Wendy Marx

 PR and Marketing_ How to Communicate During COVID-19

There is no denying that these are stressful times -- COVID-19 is changing the face of many businesses. But how should this affect your PR and marketing strategies?

That's the all-important question at the moment for many brands.

A recent study from Kantar gives some insight into how consumers expect businesses to act during the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the study, 75% of respondents felt that companies should not exploit the health crisis to promote their brand. At the same time only 8% felt that companies should stop advertising altogether.

Where does this leave us?

The study goes on to reveal that 77% expect brands to be helpful during this pandemic. So we need to shift our focus from brand promotion and instead look at ways that we can genuinely help and support our audience.

We obviously can't continue "business as usual," but that doesn't mean that we have to close up shop, so to speak. Your audience still needs and wants you to be there, but your marketing and PR strategy needs to be sensitive to the crisis that everyone is facing.

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How can you maintain your business and communicate with your audience during this pandemic? Let's consider a few guiding principles that will help you navigate these new, murky waters.

How to Adapt Your PR and Marketing Strategy to Communicate Effectively During COVID-19

1. Don't Shut It Down

Dont shut down your communications marketingEven when under quarantine, coronavirus shouldn't shut down your brand's strategy. Your audience still wants and needs to hear from you. Journalists need news stories outside of the pandemic to share with their audience.

So, don't put your strategy in stasis. Look for ways to stay relevant to your audience. Explore what pitches you can still send to journalists covering your industry. 

Sure, there are going to be projects and plans that you have to put on hold -- but that doesn't mean your whole strategy needs to be.

2. Continue to Be Helpful

This is a constant principle for marketing and PR professionals. Even amidst this pandemic, your audience needs to be at the forefront of your strategy. But their interests are understandably going to change during this time. With this in mind, ask yourself...

  • How does coronavirus affect my audience?
  • Have my audience's priorities changed?
  • Does the coronavirus affect my product/service? If so, how can I best communicate that to my audience?

Questions like these help to keep your audience's pain points top of mind. From here you can see what content and campaigns still apply to your audience -- and which need to be put on the back burner until the dust settles.

3. Be Ready to React Fast

Act fast in your pr and marketing strategyThe recent study from Kantar reveals 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. 

How should this impact your brand?

We get new updates about the coronavirus on a daily basis. A quick response to assure your audience that your eyes are on the situation helps them to have confidence in your brand. 

For instance, when various places shut down businesses and encouraged those who could to work from home, some businesses went into immediate action. They set up their employees to work from home and adapted their strategies accordingly. This showed their audience that slowing the spread of the virus and keeping their employees safe was their top priority. 

Other brands sent out email updates about how they were taking extra precautions to keep their customers safe. For instance, many airlines sent out emails explaining cleaning and other preventative measures they were doing to keep passengers safe. 

Such reactions need to be quick-moving. if you're among the last brands to send out such communications, it can appear as if you're lagging behind your competitors. And that it's an after thought.

4. Promote Content Empathetically

The recent study from Kantar pointed out 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 be careful about how your promote content during this time. The virus is obviously top of everyone's priority list. It's not the time to blast random content into everybody's social media feeds or on other outlets. If you do, it could be taken as insensitive and even disruptive.

So how can you promote your content while still showing respect for the current situation? A lot will depend on your individual strategy.

Some brands continue to post their regular content, while at the same time sharing important information about virus updates. This shows their audience that they're plugged in to what's going on while still delivering top quality content.

Other brands have decided to shift their social strategy to share specific coronavirus-related tips that will help their audience during this difficult period.

The point is, you don't have to maintain complete radio silence in your social and content strategies. You can continue to engage your audience, with a healthy dose of empathy.

5. Look for Non-COVID Journalists

look for industry journalists for your marketing and communications strategyYes, the coronavirus is the top story right now -- but it's not the only one. There are still journalists who continue to write industry-related articles and now more than ever they need pitches to help them get their job done.

Do you have a story that you believe will interest journalists and their audiences? Look for a journalist in your industry who continues to publish industry-related news. Once you're sure that they're still actively publishing news items, reach out to them tactfully with your pitch.

And if you can connect your story to a low-key, virus-related subject, such as working from home, time management, and homeschooling, so much the better. This shouldn't be forced, but if you see a natural connection, then don't hesitate to use it.

Don't go overboard with this. Remember, you're not going to get the same degree of attention that you would have before the virus hit. As we've mentioned in previous posts, if you have big news like a new product or change in branding to announce, then wait until everything calms down before you announce it.

6. Do Not Exploit the Situation

What do we mean by "exploit"? We mean take advantage of the current situation to benefit your business.

For example, if you run a communications company, now would not be the time to raise your rates and run a promotion about "staying in touch with loved ones."

To put it plainly, taking advantage of people during one of the most vulnerable periods in recent history is a slimy move. And current audiences are ready to call foul at the faintest whiff of exploitation. 

You need to carefully examine all of your current strategies. Consult with others on your team. If there's any doubt that a tactic or campaign could be perceived as exploitation, it's best to sit on it for the time being.

7. Keep Humor to a Minimum

PR strategy ; limit your humorUnless your business is comedy-based, you need to tone down the humor. This means no jokes or memes about the coronavirus.

Anxiety is running at an all time high. People are understandably in crisis mode, worrying about loved ones and keeping a watchful eye on the situation. Even the most well-placed humor runs the risk of poking at an open wound.

Scale back the humor for now and focus your energy on genuinely helping your audience. People will no doubt remember your helpfulness and kindness long after this crisis has passed.

8. Get Creative

At the end of the day, this is uncharted territory for all of us. As is true of great explorers, creativity can set you apart. Is there a unique problem facing your brand or industry? It may be time to brainstorm with your team and look out of the box for solutions. 

Could you use Live Streaming to show your audience how your business is continuing during the pandemic? How about taking this time to create content that you've been putting off, such as video content? These solutions help you to stay connected with your audience and deliver engaging content.

In review...

8 Guiding Principles to Help You Communicate Effectively During COVID-19

We live in uncertain times, but it doesn't mean that you can't still have a thriving PR and marketing strategy. I hope these tips help you to adapt your strategy appropriately.

What challenges are you experiencing in your marketing and PR strategy during this pandemic? Let me know in the comments below.

 

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Apr 6, 2020
 
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Wendy Marx

Wendy Marx is the founder and president of Marx Communications, a boutique inbound marketing and public relations agency. An award-winning B2B public relations pro, she has helped many small- & medium-sized firms (SMBs) become well-known industry brands and transform their businesses, going from Anonymity to Industry Icon™.

Her business articles have appeared in The New York Times, InformationWeek, Inc., Advertising Age, & Fast Company, among other outlets. 

View all posts by Wendy Marx