Public Relations Strategies During the Pandemic: Keep Calm and Carry On

My great-grandparents both died during the 1918 pandemic that struck Philadelphia like a bolt of crackling lightening. As a small child I remember my parents speaking about it in hushed almost frightened tones. It was something to be dreaded. And now here I am in the middle of what seems like a page out of Stephen King’s The Stand.

Today I find myself not only trying to protect my health and safety but also that of my clients. What worked yesterday just will not fly today, whether it’s working with traditional or social media. Consumers aren’t ready to accept the light and fluffy, but there is that careful step somewhere between “light and fluffy” and “all pandemic all the time.”  Since I’m just now finding my way through this event, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts and guidance with you.

  • Toss your old strategy out the window. For one of our retail clients, we advised driving consumers to the website, with a shift towards a major ad spend on social media to drive them to the online store. For one of our healthcare practitioners, we advised fulfilling her dream of an informative blog aimed at patient needs while home during the virus. And for a medical device manufacturer, we shifted consumer outreach from retail to online strategy.
  • Revise your messaging. This one is a no-brainer. For one of our architectural clients, we shifted messaging from renovation/construction to home décor since basically all construction jobs in New York City are closed, but design could be worked on from home.
  • Be sensitive. If you are going to tag the virus in your content, make sure it’s done in the most sensitive manner. Everyone is sheltering in place. In your social media posts ask followers how they are doing. Be honest and tell them how you’re doing too. Create empathy. Empathy is key here. You don’t want to be tone-deaf and alienate people. If you turn to big brands, for example, you’ll see that some of them have gone quiet. It’s a delicate situation because you don’t want to sound like you’re just selling at a time like this.
  • Keep calm and carry on. The current situation requires leadership to be level-headed and calm, but also creative. Use communications tools, especially tech tools, to win people and influence consumers.
  • Stay optimistic.  As my mother was fond of saying, “This too shall pass.”

6 PR Tips That Help Build a Brand

Building your brand and maintaining its presence is a full-time job.  Sometimes this job can be handled internally and other times the best solution can come from an external public relations agency. 

Here are 6 PR Tips That Help Build a Brand

  1. Public relations. As a demand-generation tool, nothing beats a well-crafted and strategically implemented public relations program.  For developing credibility and garnering brand awareness, a PR campaign can fine-tune messages, build brands, develop prospects and avert crises.  Talk to a public relations agency and learn what it has to offer.  Your brand will thank you…so will your bottom line.
  2. Social media outreach. Be careful not to discount the millennials. Like it or not, they are the newest and most passionate group to jump onto the social media bandwagon, and you can’t be late to dinner on this one. You’re public relations agency can easily develop and maintain your social media pages, but so can your internal marketing department.  Bottom line is, make sure someone is minding the store.
  3. Blogging. Again, a good public relations agency can assist you in the development of your company blog, but this is something for which you should spend some time figuring out your point-of-view.  This will make it easier for you, your PR agency or your marketing department to feel comfortable writing in your style and voice.
  4. Research. Before any outside agent can assist you with your branding you have better done your own initial research into your marketplace.  Who are your competitors? Pricing? Potential controversy, such as ingredients, pricing, sourcing? Know your audience and know it well. Consumers can be a fickle bunch and can be
  5. Reputation management. In the current climate, reputation matters more than some appreciate and protecting, as well as enhancing yours is important for your bottom line. Strong sales can be the result of strong leadership and an innovative sales department. It can also be the result of a strong reputation.  Make sure you take the time to not only create your reputation, but to learn to protect it.  One bad online review that goes unanswered can lead to a potential viral disaster and an end to consumer confidence.
  6. Promotion. There is a fine line between enticing promotion and bombarding your customers with unwanted emails and promotional materials. Balance and timing is everything. Choose your targets and messages carefully. Realize that a well-positioned promotional piece or event, selectively placed and strategically developed, will do much for your brand sales and growth.

5 Qualities of a Good PR Client

A bad public relations agency client is like a really bad meal—miserable but not life-threatening.

Still, it’s good to avoid them as much as possible.  And the best way to do that is to know what qualities to look for in a good client/agency relationship. So I present these qualities for your review:

  1. Good clients have a realistic budget. Unless the new client has had a former relationship with a public relations agency, he is likely to be clueless about the cost of a public relations program.  But, hopefully, a good client will realize that he has to spend money in order to make it.  So, it is your job to help educate him as to how you work: What is your monthly retainer? How much do you allocate to fees vs. expenses? What is the average length of your contractual arrangement? Good clients take the time to be educated.
  2. Good clients are interested in working with someone they can trust.   When a client trusts you as a communicator they take your opinion seriously, especially if your opinion is contrary to theirs. No client likes to hear the word “no”.  But, after all, they have put their business in your hands and are depending on you to be the monitor of their brand image.
  3. Good clients are willing to accept advice. A good client is eager for advice, that’s why they hired a public relations agency to begin with.  They allow you to become a part of their marketing team—working with them and not necessarily for them.  I have had the good fortune of working with a number of good clients who have even sought my advice on matters from my opinion on their advertising campaigns to how they should appropriately congratulate their boss on his promotion.
  4. Good clients have a single point of contact. You’re on a deadline and you need that quick approval—who do you call—the client contact.  You don’t want to have to deal with several point people, when one will make your life so much more effective. Make certain that you get that point person, and then go on to earn their trust—they’ll be your client for life.
  5. Good clients participate in the process.  Now that you’ve got that point person, you want to make sure they remain involved and engaged in your public relations program– but not too much. An uninformed client is not a good client.  Assure them that part of your job is to make their job easier, and that you value their opinion.  A good client will review your monthly status reports and not merely file them—and if possible, you’ll develop monthly review meetings so that you keep the client informed.  An informed client is an advocate for your agency.