In these uncertain times, where many businesses have been forced to temporarily close their doors or completely shift their business models due to the Coronavirus, it is prudent for companies to cut their operating expenses wherever possible. This understandably includes marketing and public relations budgets, along with any other costs not deemed truly essential to running the business. However, in a time where trust and transparency are at a premium, I would argue that PR is more important now than ever before. Here’s why:
Third-party validation through earned media coverage is one of the best ways to engender trust and credibility for your brand. Unlike advertising, where it is obvious to the consumer that you paid for the placement, editorial coverage is not guaranteed and is a non-biased endorsement for your product or service. Because of this, consumers place greater trust in earned content and are more likely to believe something they read about in an article or see being featured on the news, rather than something they see in an ad.
Building trust is extremely important right now, especially as it pertains to how safe consumers feel in interacting with your brand during COVID-19 and how comfortable they will be in doing so once life gets back to “normal.” Brand loyalty is cultivated through authenticity and transparency and will be invaluable once you are fully back in business.
With stay-at-home orders in effect, media consumption has spiked because people are craving valuable content and are captive audiences with less distractions. Positioning yourself as a thought leader in your industry is a great way to build awareness for your product or service without pushing a hard sales message. Think about what information you have to share and its relevancy during the Coronavirus crisis. Lending your knowledge about a particular subject and being a resource to people is a great way to get your name out there or stay top of mind. Perhaps you are a restaurant owner that can offer a first-hand account of how your business has been affected and the precautions you are taking to continue to serve the community via takeout and delivery. Or, maybe you are a real estate agent or mortgage broker that could comment on the state of the local real estate market, how COVID-19 is affecting rates and whether now is a good time to buy, sell or refinance. Putting yourself in the consumer’s shoes and thinking about what questions you would have if you weren’t an expert in your space is a good place to start when it comes to generating useful content.
In the midst of a crisis it is imperative to be proactive, instead of reactive. Having PR representation to offer strategic counsel and anticipate the worse case scenario before it happens is key. Although it is highly unlikely that any PR pro could’ve seen the Coronavirus coming, now that we are here it is important to carefully navigate your next steps and think through potential instances that could negatively impact your business once people start returning to their every day lives. What precautions can you take to circumvent potential issues from arising? What messaging can you prepare in advance to have on-hand in the event that it becomes necessary to put out a statement addressing an incident involving your company? Being prepared is half the battle of managing a crisis situation, so you don’t make a perilous misstep in the heat and haste of the moment.
There is a right and a wrong way to communicate with your customers, employees and the general public right now. Tone deaf messaging can be a brand’s demise in normal times, let alone during a global pandemic. Your company needs to be especially sensitive to the current climate and all internal and external communication should be factual, useful and, most of all, human. Now is not the time for an opportunistic sales message or an inappropriate social media post. Brands who display empathy and deliver value to their customers now will win in the long run.
How your company handles the challenges posed by Coronavirus, will largely determine how well and quickly your business rebounds. Oftentimes it isn’t a crisis itself that a breaks a brand, but the mismanagement of one that can have disastrous and long-lasting effects on a company.
How are you showing up for your team and your community? Are you leading with positivity and empathy? Are you pivoting your business model to better serve your customers? Are you donating your products or services to help those in need? If you’re not already invested in your local community, there is no better time than the present to start.
For all of these reasons, cutting public relations during the biggest health and economic crisis of our time and when your company needs it the most is not a good plan. PR professionals are skilled at crisis communications and can help you develop a management strategy that addresses all of the above considerations, while keeping an eye out for any potential landmines. In addition to helping you navigate a stressful situation and mitigate the effects of the Coronavirus crisis on your company, a good PR pro can also help you effectively plan for the future. Take this time to hone your brand story and put together a roadmap for the remainder of the year to ensure your comeback is a lot stronger and more impactful than the COVID-19 setback.