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How to adapt your PR and comms during coronavirus and future crises

7 months ago

This blog was part of the Lincolnshire Chamber of Commerce #ChamberConnect series of webinars, giving business support during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. To watch the full webinar click here.

Your strategy needs to reflect your situation

  • Different sectors are being impacted differently (of course)
    • For some, business has disappeared completely
    • Others have never been busier
    • More still are somewhere in between
  • How you change your strategy has to depend on how you’ve been affected so far

How can PR & comms help your business right now?

It’s important to:

  • Keep in touch with customers
  • Update them on disruption or changing situations
  • Let people know you’re still open for business
  • Tell them that you’ve diversified
  • Keep the new business coming in

Review all of your existing planned PR & comms activity

Plans you made before the lockdown may no longer be appropriate or relevant

  • Don’t get caught out with an inappropriate message
  • Be mindful of the tone
  • Be careful not to promote events that have been cancelled – scheduled social media posts might be in the system
  • Is now really the right time to launch a new product?
  • Perhaps you’ve been forced to close, so make sure you don’t imply otherwise on your channels

Even if the content still works, the tone needs to be different now because this isn’t business as usual anymore.

Look at the position your business is in, now and consider what you have to offer

  • Are you open for business? If so, let people know!
  • Are you closed physically but open for online sales? Let people know!
  • Are you helping your local communities? Let people know!
  • Are you adapting? Let people know!

Are you still using the right channels to get your messages out?

Consider how you’re using the four types of media available to you:

  • Paid media (e.g. online ads, magazine adverts)
  • Earned media (e.g. press features, coverage)
  • Shared media (e.g. social media)
  • Owned media (e.g. website blogs, guides and resources)

What’s your current split between them? And how does that split need to change during this time?

  • Do you need to change where you’re investing on your paid media? For example, can you start promoting your coronavirus advice guides instead of pushing ticket sales for your summer events?
  • Is there an opportunity for doing more earned media right now – advice pieces on news sites or for your local paper?
  • Now might be the time to be speaking more directly to your customers with more shared media added into the mix?
  • And what about owned media. Your blog and other forms of owned media are essential right now. Don’t neglect them if your team is quieter temporarily.

Is the media even interested in your news anymore? 

In the grand scheme of things, our company stories might not seem that important right now. Some magazines have even stopped printing entirely during the lockdown. So absolutely, we need to keep things in perspective.

Media still requires your news during coronavirus crises

Coronavirus is the biggest story right, rightly so, and will be for a good while yet, however…

Journalists still need your news

  • As one local journalist said recently, we can’t fill every page with news about coronavirus every day
  • Yes, coronavirus is the main story, but people still want to read other news, especially good news stories (coronavirus-related or otherwise)
  • You don’t even need to have the perfect press release – of course it helps – but you can just pick up the phone or send an email to tell them what you’re doing. They’ll probably be grateful.

How to cut through when there’s one big story out there

  • Start again – you’ll need to review your whole PR & comms strategy
  • Temper your expectations – these are far from normal times
  • Make it easy for them (photos/ quotes/ proofing/ availability and so on)

Quick tips for implementing PR & comms plans during coronavirus

Be careful

  • All the same usual rules of reputation management still apply – online or offline – but more so than ever right now
  • Where possible. stick to talking about what you know; your expertise, and what your organisation (or partners) are doing through this period
  • Think before you tweet, as always
  • Don’t piggy-back for the sake of it
  • Don’t get distracted from your business’ main objectives
  • Don’t forget the optics (social distancing/ big groups/ promoting unnecessary journeys and so on)

But don’t be too careful

  • As with any crisis comms, ‘no comment’ is a bad idea
  • So keep promoting yourself, but in the right way. If you’ve got some great new customer case studies, get them written up now and share them. Talk about how much you’re looking forward to doing more of them once things get back to normal  
  • Stick your neck out if you’ve got some good news to share
  • Show support for others who are doing great things – customers, local community, other businesses and so on
  • Diversify what you’re doing to meet the changing situation
    • Who can your business help during this time? And how?
    • How can you adapt your business model? Can you start home deliveries/ can you start new services/ can you retool to supply the health service/ can you move more things online/ can you offer support to key workers, or help others affected by the situation?
  • It’s OK to let people know what you’re doing – that’s PR. It’s how you do it, that matters

On that note, watch your tone

It’s so tricky. You have to find the balance between being too light-hearted and too gloomy. The best way is to tone down any ‘faux positivity’, and take a kinder, more helpful approach to your comms.

How to get your PR & comms ready for life after lockdown?

Another pressing question is how do we manage our PR & comms when the lockdown is lifted? There’s so much uncertainty around all of this. So I wanted to just outline the certainties of good, effective PR & comms that your business can be employing, whatever comes your way next month, or next year.

  • Have good, clear stories, well told, that get to the point
  • Have a clear idea of what your business stands for at this time
  • Have a clear idea of your authority
  • Have a clear understanding of who your audiences are, and where they’re getting their news (think PESO)
  • Focus on building strong media relationships

Also, treat your PR and marketing plan like you treat cash flow forecasts right now. Your plans might be changing just as much, so you need to keep revisiting them.

And if you can, get ready to make the most of the opportunities that will come your way.

How can you stay prepared for future crises?

It’s planning in peacetime – for the worst things that could befall any business. And having a response ready.

It’s a headstart – it helps a business to react in the right way, at the right speed, when the proverbial hits the fan

It will never cover everything – if you prepare for 100 different crises, it will be the 101st that will land on your desk. But because you’ve prepared, you’ll be ready

Once you have the plan ready, you will use it, trust me!

Your eight-steps crisis comms plan

Put all of these steps below into a master crisis comms document

  1. Choose your crisis comms team

Not just your marketeers – involve your senior people too. Make it clear to them what they’re signing up to – potential Christmas Day phone calls, weekend radio appearances with 30 minutes’ notice and so on. They’ve got to be invested and prepared for that.

  1. Choose your chain of command

When a crisis hits, who do you call first? If they’re not free, who’s next? Have primary and secondary spokespeople lined up, and do it by business area if needed (e.g. HR, finance or IT)

  1. Work out your crisis hierarchy

What counts as a major incident, worthy of a full-scale crisis comms plan? What counts as a minor incident, worthy of just some positive proactive actions. And then which situations require no action and just a watching brief of observing instead?

  1. Carry out a crisis assessment

What could go wrong? That’s what you’re asking yourself. Think about every possible threat to your business operations and reputation. Group these together by topic, such as your premises, your workforce, your IT systems, your customers, suppliers, stakeholders and so on. You’ll start to understand where the next threat might come from. Or at least any weak spots.

  1. Create template press statements

These don’t have to be fully finished documents. These will save you so much time. Draft a statement for each group of threats – these are starting points, where you can then fill in the gaps when you’re in a hurry to respond during a crisis.

  1. Agree your action plan

This is everything you need to do within the so-called ‘Golden Hour’ 60 minutes after a crisis breaks. Who you need to inform, Who takes control, what statements you need to write, and which resources you will need to make available online for different stakeholders. You’ll forget some of these steps in a panic, otherwise.

  1. Brief your team

First, share the crisis comms document with your crisis comms team for their input and sign off.

Then, brief the rest of your team once it’s all agreed. You don’t need to share everything with everybody. Tell them about the part they need to play; what to look out for, and who to contact when something happens. It’s very unlikely that it will be you who spots the crisis first.

  1. Test and learn from each crisis

No crisis comms is complete until it’s been used at least once. Things will go wrong, there will be something to learn from each time you use the plan – so put a review in your diary after things calm down to learn from each situation.

The idea of thinking about the next crisis right now might seem unnecessary, but with the experience of the current situation fresh in your mind – and possibly having more time on your hands at the moment – now is actually a good time to consider how to protect your business from future crises.