PR and marketing tips for companies in the COVID-19 era

The coronavirus has transformed the way we live, love, work, and do business. The way you conduct your public relations both externally and internally as a company during this time is vitally important for your reputation. As a respectable brand you can’t just continue business as usual.

We’re living in a pandemic and everything you ever did before should be handled differently now, including your PR and marketing efforts. Brands are made up of human beings, and as such, we must act responsibly and compassionately. So here are a few basic tips to guide you in how you should handle your PR and marketing efforts during this time of crisis.

Utilize your social media and blog presence more than ever

Locked up at home, people are unsurprisingly glued to their computers and smartphones more than ever. Not only that, but they’re feeling alone, uncertain, and scared. This is why it’s so important to engage continuously with your customers via social media and other online channels, while also making sure that you cater to their needs rather than your own. 

This means avoiding the posting of product features or funding news, which many people will probably not be receptive to right now. Instead, use your social media and blogs to address what’s happening in the world and think of what knowledge or expertise you have as an organization that could be helpful for your audience at this unprecedented moment in history. For example, if you’re a medical startup, share advice with your audience on how they can stay fit and healthy. If you’re a payment platform, share information on how people can save money during the coronavirus pandemic, and so on.

Likewise, it’s also important to publicly address all relevant and ongoing issues you may be facing as a brand because of the coronavirus outbreak. So if you’ve had to layoff people, cancel orders, or whatever it may be, address such news honestly and openly. Customers will trust and respect you more for it, and they’ll be more willing to engage with whatever COVID-19-related content or advice you want to share with them.

Adapt your announcements

As a smart PR person, you should look at the news you have coming up in the pipeline and see how you can adapt your announcements to be more in tune with the issues and needs created by the coronavirus outbreak. The type of announcements you deliver as a brand across your various channels need to be sympathetic, compassionate, and sensitive to how people may be feeling during this difficult period. In many cases, they also need to be seen to be helping with the coronavirus effort, such as with Nike’s “Play inside, play for the world” ads and Coca Cola’s “Staying apart is the best way to stay united” billboards.

Another effective adaptation strategy involves discounts and special offers on relevant products or services. Many people are obviously feeling the pinch financially at the moment, but if they see a brand willing to help them out with access to products that can help them during a lockdown, they may end up feeling greater loyalty towards it.

Focus on thought leadership

A global pandemic obviously isn’t the best time for conventional PR and marketing, or for product launches. So without the usual press releases or announcements, one of the best and most effective ways you can stay in the public eye is by focusing on thought leadership.

Regardless of whether this is on your own blog or as a guest on a news website, well-researched and well-written thought leadership pieces serve to get your brand out there, even when you may not actually have anything new at that moment to sell. And now is the time to be writing thought leadership pieces, because with most of the developed world locked down at home, there’s a greater appetite for insightful articles and content that can help illuminate how we move forward from this challenging period.

Even in normal times, thought leadership is effective. According to Survey Monkey’s 2020 thought leadership report, 66% of marketers consider thought leadership a “top priority” for their PR, with 71% reporting that it has resulted in an increase in web traffic, 62% reporting an increase in lead generations, and 56% reporting more media mentions. As such, it will pay to invest the downtime ushered in by the coronavirus outbreak in thought leadership. Because if it’s done well, it can provide you with much more interest and business down the line.

Change your messaging

Now that the coronavirus has changed the world, it’s vital that you change your messaging. Whenever communicating externally, think carefully about the words and language you’re using, regardless of whether you’re writing on LinkedIn, in a newsletter, on Twitter, in a press release, or on a blog. People are panicking about their jobs, their kids, their parents, and their own health. So irrespective of your own feelings, your messaging needs to be tailored to such concerns.

In practice, this means acknowledging what people are feeling. For example, despite being one of the few companies to perform better due to the coronavirus pandemic, Netflix opened its recent letter to shareholders with the paragraph, “In our 20+ year history, we have never seen a future more uncertain or unsettling …  What’s clear is the escalating human cost in terms of lost lives and lost jobs, with tens of millions of people now out of work.” 

The rest of Netflix’s letter continued to talk at an unusually human level for what is essentially a financial statement. The company realizes that the eyes of the world are turned towards it, so it adapted its messaging to resonate with the prevailing mood. This is what you’ll have to do in your own messaging, regardless of the format or the level at which you’re communicating. 

Send a letter from your CEO to clients

While the coronavirus may get in the way of conventional advertising, one way of preserving further connection with your clients is for your CEO to write a letter to them. Not only will this serve to maintain contact with your customers, but at a time of global crisis, it will provide you with the opportunity to demonstrate your understanding of your clients’ needs, experiences, and expectations. It will also allow your company to show what it’s doing or will be doing to help people during this period.

Even if you can’t directly help your clients manage the ongoing crisis, writing such a letter will assist in its own way. On the one hand, it will be a comfort to your customers, letting them know that they aren’t alone. On the other, it will show them that you’re not simply a company or a brand, but rather a part of their community, confronting many of the same experiences and problems that they do.

And aside from simply writing a letter to your customers, you can make this letter an open one. This is something that companies such as Tide and Syngenta have already done, posting open letters on their websites for existing and also potential customers to see.

Help the community

When much of the world needs help, the best way to make a name for yourself is to help people. Yes, there may be a reduced appetite for your products at this moment in time, but there has been an explosion in the demand for aid and assistance. So now’s the time to take the opportunity to help your community in whatever way you can as a company. 

While such help will vary depending on the kind of business, it might involve sharing some of your profit with charities or organizations that are on the frontline of helping fight the coronavirus and its wider effects. Or it might involve starting your own campaign or initiative to tackle some aspect of the coronavirus pandemic.

For example, Unilever donated £50 million (about €56.9 million) in late March to a £100 million campaign to get people to wash their hands and disinfect surfaces more regularly. Similarly, L’Oréal, Reckitt Benckiser, and Essity were three of several brands to join  the “Shop Responsibly” campaign in the UK, which urged people to shop more conscientiously during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This is the kind of thing your company could be doing instead of conventional PR and marketing. Even if it’s on a smaller scale, contributing in some way to efforts lessening the impact of the coronavirus will succeed in creating positive associations for your brand. It may not be financially rewarding in the short term, but will likely pay off in the post-COVID future.

Planning for a post-COVID future

Ultimately, it’s the post-COVID future you should keep in mind when updating your PR and marketing plans. Sooner or later, the coronavirus pandemic will end, therefore you need to think how the extra time you have now can be best spent. Reevaluate your objectives and strategies, outline what you want to achieve once the crisis is over. This is the best time for planning. In this manner, you’ll be more likely to hit the ground running when everything returns to relative normality. 

And yes, while the coronavirus pandemic is likely to hit most businesses negatively, the best way to adapt your PR and marketing strategy is to view it as an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to connect with your clients and the public in new uncharted ways, to prove that you’re more than just a company. Use this period to show a different, more humane side of your brand’s personality, because we are all going to need to rebuild together and now is the perfect time to start.

Published April 23, 2020 — 13:41 UTC