Adjusting Your Business’ Marketing and Public Relations Strategy After the Initial Shock of Coronavirus: 4 Principles to Put Into Practice
By Cynthia Cradduck
We have all been operating in a time of uncertainty due to the coronavirus, and businesses and brands are already feeling the ripple effects of the shelter-in-place orders and shutdowns.
During a time of crisis, it’s important to button down the hatches and weather the storm, but it’s also important to keep your communications clear and consistent.
Now, with our state’s reopening right around the corner, you may be ready to restart your public relations efforts, but questions probably remain: Should I showcase how my brand can help in these trying times or will it come across the wrong way? Should I share my story that’s not about COVID-19 or is that insensitive?
Some folks have continued marketing as if nothing has happened. Their posts are completely tone deaf. If they did not pause scheduled or pre-written content for campaigns and continued to market as if business was going on as usual, negative comments and public backlash ensued.
With crisis communications, it’s always better to face a challenge head on than to pretend nothing has happened. Especially now, people’s lives are being drastically changed and you as a company must show you are as loyal to your customers as they are loyal to your brand.
Other businesses have been extremely aggressive with their marketing, which runs the risk of being perceived as opportunistic in a crisis. Brands launching campaigns in response to COVID-19 must tread carefully.
Even social media platforms, such as Twitter, publicly made statements to advise that companies and marketers avoid capitalizing on the outbreak in an effort to promote themselves or their brand on the platform during this time.
So how do you balance between being relevant and being respectful? It’s important to remember all of your communication strategies are fluid and we all must continue to shift appropriately with marketing efforts. Here are four overarching guidelines to keep in mind:
- Proceed with positivity:
How are you helping people with the current situation? Could you make a donation to charity? Can you help with the distance learning movement? Offer a discount for first responders or people who were personally impacted. Start something you’ve never done before, like a 14-day free trial. Launch a giveaway on social media.
If your brand has a positive story to share, it will be more in-demand now than ever before. There are many journalists looking for ethical, encouraging stories to add variety to their news coverage. We all want to hear how we as a community are supporting each other and coming together during this time. Just be mindful of remaining empathetic with the current situation, which brings me to my next point.
2. Continue with caution:
On the flip side of the coin is that old saying, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”. It is important to consider how your actions will be perceived by everyone involved because the last thing you want to do is to come across as taking advantage of this situation.
For instance, a popular home goods brand has gotten backlash for email advertising “the perfect WFH (work-from-home) desks.” Although they were marketing relevant products for people stuck inside, they also offended those followers who were recently laid-off.
Another example is a popular Tik-Tok influencer with more than 8 million fans who started selling COVID-19 branded face masks for $25. He claimed that the campaign was to create awareness of the seriousness of the virus, but his efforts were viewed poorly. After a lot of pressure, he decided to donate all of the proceeds from the sales to Meals on Wheels. It was a smart decision in the end, but the time it took to get him to that decision may have been detrimental to his brand.
Go ahead and prepare statements for all of the possible scenarios that may result from actions you plan to take. If you are reopening, draft statements for employee safety measures. Create a Q&A for customer concerns on hygiene and new procedures. Try to answer all possible questions before they are even asked and this will help you avoid a sticky situation.
3. Transparency and tone:
A company’s overall messaging and tone should be one of safety, sensitivity and humanity. When creating content to share, be sure to soften the language, remove corporate jargon, and show that there are human beings behind the brand. We are #allinthistogether – so show us! Give a behind the scenes look at your home or backyard or take us along on your afternoon bike ride around your neighborhood.
Customers are also looking for absolute transparency right now, so communicating in an honest, open manner is a safe bet. Tell us what you are doing to reopen, the extra steps to keep your customers and staff safe. Or maybe you have decided not to reopen for a few weeks – tell us why! Share what thoughts you have right now, and let us connect over these feelings.
4. Plan for Post-Pandemic:
In the long term, how you are and continuing to respond to this will affect the reputation of your company, but even more importantly, your operations may change permanently. If you haven’t already, create a crisis media plan for a protocol detailing what you (or brands you identify with) did correctly this time around. Creating this roadmap now will help you be more prepared in the future.
Also, continue to monitor trends you currently see developing. What do you notice in your niche market? Is this something the media would want to know about? In a few months from now, this may be a story worth sharing.
This COVID-19 chaos created a whole new rulebook for public relations and marketing professionals, and I’m sure that within a year, what happened will be studied in universities around the world.
The bottom line is that now is the time to focus on high-level strategic PR and marketing. Strategy matters and your response is going to be crucial for your brand’s public image.
Cynthia Cradduck is a Partner at Cecilia Russo Marketing, where she oversees business development and coordinates reputation management strategies for clients, media relations and online SEO-PR.