18 Mar Public relations during the coronavirus
The turn of the decade has introduced new words and phrases into our daily conversations. Coronavirus. COVID-19. Social distancing. Social isolation. Shelter-in-place. The escalation of COVID-19 cases from a relatively small number of cases in China to a global pandemic has transformed and impacted every industry and aspect of our lives with alarming velocity. For many businesses, the question is: what should we do about our marketing and public relations initiatives?
With headlines about the coronavirus dominating the news, it’s challenging to develop marketing and PR plans and execute accordingly. However, there are still things that savvy companies can do during these uncertain times.
1. Think critically about how to tell your story
The coronavirus pandemic has led to heightened fears of the unknown – and with stock markets in freefall, travel at a standstill, an overburdened healthcare system and grocery stores struggling to cope with consumers rushing to stock up on home items, there’s been plenty of news for reporters to cover.
During this time, it’s important to be judicious in how you tell your story – and whether this is the right time to be telling it at all.
We’ve been surprised to see that some PR pros sent some very cringeworthy pitches to reporters (for the record, starting any email with “coronavirus is helpful” will leave many recipients shaking their heads). Before you hit ‘send’ on any marketing emails or media pitches that reference COVID-19, think about whether you are making a tenuous tie to it and could be seen to be profiting from a catastrophe. Err on the side of caution: if you’re not sure if you’re capitalizing on the news, you probably are.
2. Know the news cycle
That’s not to say that all stories are invalid during this time. As daily lives are uprooted, we’ve seen media coverage evolve from not just writing about the outbreak itself, but what this means for virtually every facet of life.
At Gravitate PR, for example, we work with Wire, a secure collaboration platform. Upon further research and discussion with our client, we highlighted how the COVID-19 outbreak has also led to another threat – hackers exploiting vulnerable businesses. Providing business and IT leaders with a more practical, tips-focused story appeared as a video interview in TechRepublic, among many other publications.
The news cycle tends to follow a pattern of covering the news itself (“breaking news”) on day one, with ensuing days exploring the issue and its ramifications. In the case of the coronavirus, we’ve seen follow-on stories about the consequences of Facebook inadvertently blocking links with important coronavirus information, the rise of online shopping/delivery, and the potential mental health consequences of people staying at home.
3. Understand that resources are strained
For many publications across the globe, media resources have been overwhelmed in sifting and writing about COVID-19. This has meant that in some cases, reporter beats have shifted to relate to the breaking news. For example, sports journalists are now being moved to general news desks to cover COVID-19 now that no major sporting events or tournaments are being held.
Think about whether the story has a trade angle to it. Industry publications are still prioritizing the pandemic-angle but are still very much covering their beats more than general news sites and dailies. For example, Gravitate PR worked with a client in the automotive tech space for an announcement in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic that generated 15+ stories in the automotive trades. Similarly, Gravitate PR has seen a steady rise over the years in guest articles for media publications that want more content, but continue to battle limited time and resources.
It’s also important to remember that media relations is not synonymous to public relations – rather, media coverage is only one tactic from a wide array of initiatives that a seasoned PR firm can counsel on and execute. With many brands becoming publishers in their own right (from consumer brands like Red Bull and Equinox to enterprise software vendors such as SAP and Adobe’s CMO.com property), companies can start to amass a solid and engaged following by creating compelling content across owned and social channels. For startups or brands starting out, this does not need to be a huge upfront investment – rather, it’s about building the right foundation and crafting the right strategy to help see that uptick over time.
4. Focus on the fundamentals
Understandably for many brands, when times are busy, marketing and PR pros tend to fly by the seat of their pants. But if you’re pushing back on announcing or unveiling any major campaign or initiative, that doesn’t mean that you need to be entirely dormant.
In this current climate, does your messaging still stack up? If not, then a messaging revamp exercise could be in order – as well as gaining consensus from your key stakeholders that everyone is on the same page with branding/positioning and developing materials that tie back to this source of truth.
Have you always had to scramble for content to post on your blog or social media channels? Create the content that can be pushed out at a steady cadence – whether that’s now or at a later date.
5. Look to the long-term
Finally, remember that companies – including brands like yours – are designed for the long term. Building a brand’s visibility, thought leadership, market competitiveness and reputation is through a steady and focused effort, not a one-off endeavor.
In the short term, many VC firms maintain that they continue to be open for business – but startup valuations may come down, fundraising could drop (both in terms of quantity and amounts raised), and burn rates will be more intently scrutinized. Undoubtedly, many businesses will be – and are already – affected.
However, history has shown that some of the most prominent brands have started and flourished during tough times, including Airbnb, Dropbox and Square. If history continues to be our guide, we’ll see more innovations emerge this year – from automation/AI, cybersecurity, digital health (including telemedicine), fintech and HR tech, among others. Now may be as good of a time as any to build and hone your brand’s story.