PR in a Pandemic: Top Tips
It’s dark in here. Let me find the light switch. There you go. Hey, where is everybody? It sure is quiet.
These are the thoughts you might have, if you work in PR in the Age of Coronavirus.
People are bunkered down. No one knows for sure when the crisis will end. Media and social channels can’t focus on anything else. We are all adjusting to the new, shut-in normal
If you are lucky enough to be in a business that is not taken down, you may well be wondering: what is the proper response? What should we say to customers, and the market? Should we continue to pitch the media and promote our news?
One is tempted to think back to earlier crises. But this time is different. There is no precedent, no play book to trot out. Just the same, we need some strategy, some direction. I thought I’d offer the following tips, based on what I’m seeing and believe.
It is not all about Business
Your first instinct may well be to protect what you have; perhaps by convincing clients that there’s no cause for concern. That would be a mistake. You should check in, let them know that you are thinking of them, and that you care beyond the monthly fee.
My friend Don Leon offered some great advice on LinkedIn:
Take a moment to identify some of your favorite clients and customers (folks are tending to stay local so lots of people around/at their desk). Send them a brief text or email letting them know (in your own words) that you’re thinking of them. No agenda, no apologies, no doom and gloom–just thoughts from your heart. That little bit of love can go a long way in BOTH directions.
Customers don’t need 500 emails from vendors telling them to wash their hands. Businesses don’t need to send a message unless there’s some direct impact on customers as a result of the virus.
DO Provide Guidance and Direction
People will naturally look to the pros for advice about communications. When clients and corporate teams are unsure of how to best proceed, we need to provide clear and confident direction.
Yes, PR, you are an essential business function.
E.g. some may not be sure what the proper approach is to media and other external communications. They may be skittish and want to clam up. Others will want to jump in with ill-advised pitches.
To Pitch or not to Pitch
In times of crisis, people like to tell PR, essentially, to shut up — hold fire on our pitches. I do not agree (see a post I did some time ago on the topic).
No, you shouldn’t chase ambulances. And you should not flood reporter inboxes with irrelevant or clueless pitches (not that this was ever a good idea).
Yet there’s a danger in going silent, for the media and customer communications.
As long as the press and analysts are showing up for work, and you are also open for business, you should continue to communicate with the media, including on topics relevant to the crisis (but carefully; more about this below). The competition likely are.
This is especially true for companies that are visible and have significant roles, e.g. cater to consumers or employ large numbers; and those that are in the crosshairs, like airlines, or have good news (e.g., Amazon to hire 100,000 more workers and give raises to current staff to deal with coronavirus demands).
Michelle Garrett blogged about pitching media in the Coronavirus Erabased on journalists’ feedback. The post confirms that the waters are safe for media pitches, with certain caveats and exceptions.
But we know this because the great team at Fusion PR has continued to support clients and generate results during this time.
What to Pitch
That doesn’t mean you should launch major news now, especially if there’s some flexibility in terms of timing. People are distracted, it’s a busy news day times ten.
But some news has a shelf life and can’t wait. Awards, analyst recognition, customer wins that need to be announced now, or never — this drumbeat can be a backdrop to the more dire news crowding the headlines, show you’re there for the market and customers, and might even be a welcome distraction.
There’s an obvious appetite for stories tied to the crisis. Here, you want to be careful.
As always, stay attuned to what’s being covered and what’s happening today that may make your news more relevant.
“Working from home tips” may be passé by now; but if media are covering a shortage of ventilators, and your 3D printer can generate parts for the same, it is a perfect time to discuss this option.
Don’t promote something crass, like a Coronavirus sale, but why not give away technology solutions to researchers or relief organizations, like Oracle did?
The media may also be interested in your expert advice on a range of topics, e.g. about how best to cope and plan in the face of uncertainty, stories about your company and the impact of Coronavirus, as well as:
- Personal stories, about how businesses and teams are coping
- Thought leadership, observations
- Technology that addresses security challenges of telecommuting
- Telecommuting hacks, solutions, tech, stories
Where to go From Here
While no one knows when this will end, the experts predict that the curve will likely flatten in only a couple of weeks. So, even if it’s a few more, the apex is in sight. I asked our CEO Jordan Chanofsky what he thinks. He said “The apex will be a signal for businesses to rev up again. it’s a mentality of optimism and hope that will create a tsunami of action.”
So, push major announcements off for a bit, continue with time-sensitive activities, and PR will be back full throttle soon enough.