Successful public relations campaigns are often dictated by a clear timeline carefully crafted throughout the year. These have since been thrown out the window the moment the pandemic rolled in. Which begs the question: how are companies to go about this when each new day is marked with so many uncertainties?
It seems almost impossible for businesses to market themselves right now — anything unrelated to the coronavirus pandemic can find it hard to get picked up by the media. The transition to digital platforms is expected and can help, but the regular media relations strategy won’t be optimal for obvious reasons.
But the show must go on — here’s how you can keep your media relations growing through the pandemic.
Although it might feel like public relations has no place in the pandemic, a recent study revealed that while 75% of consumers agreed that a brand ought not to exploit the situation, only 8% felt that companies should halt all advertisements altogether.
No matter what, do not capitalize on the tragedy. Instead of forcing a connection between your brand and the pandemic when there isn’t one, it’s smarter to simply acknowledge that a lot has changed — and that you will continue to serve your customers the best way that you can.
Always err on the side of caution. Audiences aren’t dumb — they can sense when a brand is thirsting for sales. Any negative response diminishes a brand’s credibility. Instead of the risk of sounding tone-deaf, be honest about what there is to offer. More on this below.
Take it easy and hold off on hard selling until the pandemic has died down.
Reach out to journalists
Every day, there is an abundance of articles regurgitating the same information. Contrary to popular understanding, not every media outlet is hungry for coronavirus-related stories. Reporters have beats — some of which does not concern the pandemic. Journalists are desperate for an angle, so why not give it to them?
Since the circumstance requires a more unique approach, don’t settle for the traditional media pitches to source a journalist. While there are journalists assigned to different beats, it is still crucial that the story in mind is aligned with what the journalist is concerned with. To get a good grasp of this, take the time to do a little background research. Figure out the type of content matters to them personally or the articles they have published in the past. These will provide a guide as to what is relevant or what lacks in the cycles.
At the end of the day, partnerships are built on foundational relationships. Even if the beat reporters usually assigned to the company can’t take on any industrial pitch, it might be beneficial to initiate a conversation for additional rapport. Surely if the brand is impacted, more so are the effects felt by journalists. In doing so, insights might even be gained as to how they’re covering the pandemic and the ways the company can fit into the picture.
Another tip to consider: avoid scheduling media releases on Mondays. The backlog of news accumulated over the weekend will overwhelm the papers. There’s no fighting chance.
Shift the focus
Now more than ever, it has become essential for brands to understand the audience and maximize the shift to digital media. Keep in mind that the message should be helpful for the general public, not just something self-promotional. Shift the attention from brand promotion to the concerns of the community, and build your connections there. Any relevant insight that has the potential to help others should be shared.
If the industry is involved in direct matters with the pandemic, the platforms should be used to offer knowledge on how the company manages the situation. If not, there are the opportunities to talk about business continuity. For instance, discuss how the company is currently handling the situation — what has been done that people would want to hear about. What has it done to protect stakeholders? What products are still of value? People are aware unemployment is on the rise, so anything that has been done to deter lay-offs is a win for all.
If a direct connection can’t be made, consider relating it to other aspects of the pandemic, such as remote work, social distancing, time management, and the incoming recession. Once thoroughly brainstormed, it can be fairly easy to connect the dots.
Most importantly, adjust expectations accordingly. Even the best roll-outs will be drowned in a sea of other attempts at public relations. At best, the published article might be a dot in a white paper.
But do keep in mind that companies should still be handling the brand in the long term. Today’s setbacks can provide tomorrow’s perspective on how to better build the brand’s reputation. The situation is nothing we’ve seen before — which can give the unique perspective no other communications leader can provide.