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COVID-19: Why PR and comms are more important than ever

The world as we knew it no longer exists. How long will it be before something resembling normality returns? Will the way we work and live ever go back to what we had before? It would seem that not even leading virologists and politicians can answer these questions.

For businesses, the challenges that have ensued from the COVID-19 pandemic are too many to list. Supply chains have been disrupted, market demand is fluctuating massively from sector to sector, and products and services have to be pivoted.

Pete Flint, a managing partner at NFX, a seed-stage venture firm based in San Francisco, wrote the below in an article about how to overcome the current situation:

I’ve found there are three distinct but equally critical elements of how you manage a crisis:

1. The first is managing losses. This will be the most difficult and painful thing you do as a CEO because it involves people, but it’s often not so much about the what as it is the how. Your empathy and speed are key here.

2. The second is gaining ground. These are the ways you will reorient your focus, your tactics, and your team so you come out ahead after a crisis.

3. The third is managing psychology. It is crucial you keep yourself, your team, and those around you healthy, sane and productive.

The first of those points comes down to making difficult but empathetic decisions as a business leader. When it comes to the second and third points, though, the value of a coherent PR and communications strategy is huge.

In fact, in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, it is more important than ever to ensure a business has a carefully calculated PR and comms strategy in place.

PR and comms during crisis

First and foremost, timely and well-managed communications are at the heart of successfully managing any crisis. That is, of course, why there is a specialist field dedicated to it: crisis comms.

However, when the going is smooth, some businesses take their communications with external and internal stakeholders for granted. Many of these are quickly learning the danger of doing so.

Business leaders must find ways to effectively relay information to current or prospective customers; they must not just inform them of their own actions at this challenging time, but also provide insight into how their market is responding (you should want to be seen as an expert, after all, so people should look to you for expertise); they must try to answer people’s questions and reassure them.

At the same time, internal staff, the supply chain, business partners and investors — should your business have them or work with them — must also be kept abreast of how you are handling the situation. A business must show all these different audiences that it is taking swift, positive, decisive action.

Silence breeds suspicion in the current climate. A fatal error is to pretend it’s “business as normal” when everyone can clearly see that it isn’t. It causes staff, customers and partners to fear the worst and question your approach.

Blogs, social media platforms, newsletters, email marketing, webinars — these are just a few of the ways that businesses can communicate with relevant audiences about what is happening and why they should stick with them. Better yet, reports and infographics can provide genuine insight into what is happening right now.

Content is king, or so the cliché goes. And right now, well written content and thorough communications can go a long, long way to steadying the ship.

Businesses must have a clear handle on:

  • What is the message, or messages, they want to promote at this time
  • How will they carefully construct that message so it has the desired effect
  • And where will they distribute that message to ensure it is actually seen

Thriving not surviving

Steadying the ship is only half of the battle, though. Crisis comms will be vital for virtually every business if they want to survive the coronavirus lockdown, but many businesses will also need to find ways to pivot and break new ground while their competitors falter. Indeed, there are some businesses who will emerge from the other side of this pandemic with a far greater market share and larger customer-base than before it.

The global financial crisis 12 or so years ago offers a good example. While many businesses suffered, some seized on new opportunities. Many have written about the bigger firms — the likes of Netflix and Groupon — which grew at pace, but many SMEs also thrived by being responsive. It kickstarted the alternative finance and fintech revolutions, for example.

At City Road Comms we have already seen many of our clients pivot. They have used their products, services, infrastructure or networks to create a business model that better fits with the current social and economic landscape.

For those that are shifting their focus, targeting new customers or delivering a different product, they need potential customers, clients and investors to hear about it. And this is where PR comes in.

Due to self-isolation and social distancing, people around the world are consuming more media than ever. They are inside more. They are watching and reading more news. They are seeking ways to stay informed or be distracted. And already we are seeing a slight fatigue in the media from coronavirus content — journalists have been telling us that they are on the hunt for interesting (and ideally ‘feel-good’) stories to write about, rather than the contents of the Government’s daily briefings.

Be bullish

Now is the perfect time for businesses to take a bullish approach to PR. Creating the right narrative and sharing it with the right journalists will enable a business to raise its profile, boost its reputation, get in front of potential customers, and shout about what it is doing.

There are undoubtedly ways of adapting products or services to better serve consumers and businesses in the current climate. The business leaders best able to spot these opportunities have the best chances of not just surviving but thriving. But all that work risks being done in vain should they not find ways to communicate their message through their own channels and with the wider world.

That is why both crisis comms and PR are more important than ever. They could be the different between life and death for a business.

Dominic Pollard

Director of Communications

About the author

With a history degree, journalism Master’s, and several years’ experience writing about business and technology for both the national and trade press, Dominic moved into the world of content marketing and comms in 2014. He joined City Road Comms in 2016, becoming the agency’s director of comms two years later. Dominic now oversees clients’ strategies and the overall operations of the agency.

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