2020 simply hasn’t been the year any of us expected. While no business has a ready-made playbook to address the COVID-19 pandemic and all its implications, from health and economics to the acceleration of digitizing entire industries, public relations firms are well-equipped to push through it because they are used to working on the fly.
The very nature of PR is to be adaptable and tailor client strategy to the 24-hour—or, these days, 60-second—news cycle. Nevertheless, even many PR firms today are just barely able to keep their heads above the proverbial parapet. As much as PR people dislike following hard-and-fast rules, there are some concrete steps companies can take to help steer their ships through these rough waters.
Keep calm—and keep it simple.
The scramble is on. In all this confusion, the only path forward is to push out stories and keep clients satisfied.
With all the pressure, it can be tempting to send out a hastily prepared, poorly conceived PR message in an attempt to fluff your clients with whatever coverage you can get. However, that’s never the right approach. If you’re unsure of the future, let your clients know. Sincerity is one of the most sought-after sentiments in an economy desperately trying to catch its bearings. Only when everyone is on the same page regarding the state of news and PR, as well as expectations for coverage, can serious success be achieved.
That’s not to say wins through PR blitzkrieg can’t be gained in certain situations. Every story must be evaluated separately, and strategies should be tailored to the story, just like in normal times. It is crucial, however, to understand that slow and steady can win the race, even in times of crisis. That must be communicated to clients.
Consider your tone.
U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt said it best: “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Everyone in PR understands that they need to change strategy in 2020. The challenge lies in doing so with genuine sincerity, compassion and humanity. Clients, as well as the broader public, will see right through opportunistic PR as crisis plagues the world.
Newsjacking to promote companies and products that can actually contribute to tackling the challenges we face is not only appropriate, but responsible. Just remember to keep it tasteful. Being overly jovial and care-free about the future is not a sentiment too many can identify with in 2020.
Emily Mullin of OneZero, for example, tweeted the following in response to a pitch.
As brands shift their focus to making the public feel comfortable with the new normal, it’s much more beneficial to remain solemnly aware of the situation by retaining a humble degree of compassion.
It’s not all COVID-19…
Virus this, pandemic that; it’s hard to escape the hailstorm that is 2020.
But with all the energy that goes into navigating these rocky roads, companies must already start thinking about life post-COVID-19. While we may never return to the “normal” of yesteryear, we will inevitably enter a period in which the economy, and businesses alike, will be looking to how best put the virus behind them. They may also be considering new strategies to confront a new economic landscape, but whatever it is your company decides upon, make sure it keeps one eye on the long-term wider picture.
It’s also important to note that not every announcement is related to the pandemic, nor should you present every client as an anti-COVID crusader. While it is advantageous to promote actual solutions to pandemic-inducted problems as what they are, there’s no need to push the novel coronavirus into unrelated stories—reporters see right through the facade.
This could be an opportunity
Somewhere out there, the bright side beckons. If virtual agencies are one of the beneficiaries of the COVID-19 era, then consider another: That the public relations discipline may find itself in a stronger position to steer brand creativity than ever before.
Without question, the current moment demands a lightning-quick pace, the kind of pace that PR work has always been equipped to deliver. PR does have the ability to read and capture the mood and respond faster than other channels of communication, so in many ways, this is PR’s moment to shine.
Motti Peer is the CEO of ReBlonde, a Tel Aviv-based global PR firm with an award-winning team that represents clients across the spectrum of tech, from AI and medtech to crypto, fintech, blockchain, and venture capital.