Communications Considerations Amidst COVID-19
As the global community continues to experience the impact of the health and economic crisis of COVID-19, we as a PR Agency are continuing to keep current on best marketing practices during this unprecedented time. As an agency and for the companies we work with, first and foremost, flexibility is key as we navigate a situation that is changing minute-by-minute. Based on what we’ve observed to date, the following are suggestions we believe every brand should keep in mind as you engage with media and activate on social media.
#1 Be Very Realistic as You Take Stock of the Situation: Before diving into a communications plan of attack, it is important to take note of the current realities of how day-to-day life has changed and how this change has dramatically impacted the news that is being shared and the content editors are seeking. Some high-level considerations include:
- 43% of the US population is now being asked to stay home, and that number is expected to grow to at least 54% in the next few days – so what do you offer these people who are now adjusting to working from home and having kids at home?
- By March 3rd, 3+ million articles mentioned COVID-19 and there were 25+ million social shares – those numbers have gone up exponentially since without any likelihood of slowing down so the only news anyone cares about right now should be related to the pandemic and life during the pandemic
#2 Be Prepared: It is an uncertain time and some brands are finding themselves in uncharted territory, often not knowing how to positions themselves to their consumers and the industry regarding what is happening in the world. At the very least, every brand should have the following communications basics ready:
- Prepare a holding statement that is approved by all company leadership
- This is a messaging guideline and statement that is not meant to be used proactively, rather you will have it ready if it is needed, and may include information about precautions the company is taking to ensure the health and safety of employees and customers as appropriate for your business
- Determine your communications processes, specifically who within your organization will run lead on distributing information regarding potential crises tied to COVID-19 to appropriate parties in a timely manner (buyers, distributors, etc.) – this may be more than one point of contact and it should be determined which vendors/stakeholders will hear from you first
- Brief employees on crisis communication protocols and provide contact information for the crisis team leader who will be able to answer their questions
#3 Consider Your Communications Approach: For internal and external communications, we recommend that brands keep the below recommendations top-of-mind while crafting all messaging:
- Be Concise: People are receiving an influx of brand communications right now, so be sure you get right to the heart of what you want to share with your audience and give them resources to follow up on. This applies both to traditional media, newsletter updates and social media programming.
- Speak to What You Know: There is a lot of misinformation out there; help the community by contributing valid, informative and expert information. Stick to your brand’s area of expertise and do not deviate from that.
- Lead by Example: Communicate what you as a company are doing to minimize the impact of the situation with your own employees. Try to be as transparent and direct as possible.
- Show Empathy: Remember that this is an incredibly stressful time for everyone and let that inform the way you shape your communications, both internally and externally. This is a time where people may have many questions and you need to try to be as patient as possible.
- Be Positive: Feel-good stories are especially appreciated during difficult times. If appropriate, feel encouraged to share positive or inspiring stories to provide hope, laughter and reassurance as we all navigate this situation.
#4 Amend Your Communications Based on Media Feedback:
- Based on our constant conversations with our trusted media contacts, below is an overview of what they have expressed they are looking for given the current news cycle:
- Ways to humanize COVID-19 by applying real-life stories that demonstrate the impact in an empathetic way
- Topics related to social distancing and ways to help people beat boredom, address logistical challenges, think creatively during this time, etc.
- Some publications are seeking to produce counter-content to offer readers a break from the 24/7 talk of the pandemic – anything related to animals, cooking and mindfulness is popular
- Publications are leaning into work from home and the self-care angles with new solutions and recommendations for readers on a daily basis
- Following is what we have heard they are NOT looking for at this time:
- Unfounded Medicinal Claims: Unless your product has current medical finding/research/statistics that prove it can help and/or cure COVID-19 specifically, avoid outreach that insinuates otherwise and could potential be seen as false claims and/or self-serving, which can hurt the integrity of your brand and its products. For example, your product may help increase immunity, but that isn’t going to stop consumers from potentially getting COVID-19.
- Op-Eds: At this point, no one wants to hear a personal opinion on the state of COVID-19, regardless of how heartwarming the opinion may be. Right now consumers are only looking for facts and figures, what is being done in terms of solutions, and whether there is a foreseeable end to the crisis.
- Individual Charitable Donations: Charitable donations are commendable, but they can also come across as opportunistic if treated as a marketing tool. Unless the charitable donation is part of a larger effort to address the pandemic and will have a meaningful impact, we do not recommend pitching to media, rather we suggest making it known directly to your customers so they are aware of how they can participate. It’s not about you, it’s about the community and how we are all working together for a solution.
#5 Adjust Social Media and Digital Media Plans: The digital world moves at lightning speed and our team of digital specialists are constantly evaluating and re-evaluating best practices during this time for content, social media advertising and influencer partnerships.
- Content: As an agency, we recommend pausing all planned and scheduled content to keep social postings aligned with the most current consumer sentiment and digital consumption habits
- Questions to Keep Asking:
- Am I bringing value to my audience?
- Am I reading comments, DMs and evaluating reach/engagement/sentiment to determine what is resonating and what my audience wants to see more of?
- Am I paying attention to how my message might be received?
- Our Observations:
- During social distancing, people are looking for creative ways to make human connections
- Is there something you can offer that is needed ( a product that is useful TODAY)? People are not buying products when they don’t feel it’s essential so best to pause advertising on expensive luxury items or frivolous things
- Are you in a position to provide education, information or experiences? Then what can you give for free?
- Social Media Ads: As many businesses are adjusting strategies and relying on e-commerce for sales, brands must adapt digitally and develop an ad strategy accordingly
- Considerations for digital ads:
- Calls-to-action: Are my ads providing my consumer with a clear call-to-action for what they need?
- Please take into consideration what is currently happening per location when geotargeting
- Is my brand’s product considered a “necessity” at this time?
- If yes: Then your ad strategy should focus on why your product is needed at this time and what value you bring to those who purchase (but be honest about it)
- If No: Continue to have a presence on social media (and share ads where applicable), however, aim to avoid opportunism or being tone-deaf, i.e., hinging your message on working from home when your product isn’t truly useful to someone who works from home
- If your product is out of stock or not available online, slow down or pause social media advertising and make sure you are posting on your social or website informing your fans when and where they can get your product when it is back in stock
- Considerations for digital ads:
#6 Review Your Crisis Communications Checklist: As we are in the midst of this ever-changing situation, it is vital to keep your crisis communications checklist updated and ready to activate on. Below please find high-level recommendations for items to consider in a crisis:
- Gather all available information (internal and external) and be prepared to adapt your crisis communications plan accordingly
- Alert all key crisis communications team members of any current situation being monitored to determine the chain of command and if any external communications (i.e. newsletters, blog content, social posts, website content, etc.) are needed
- Monitor all media coverage using Google, Google Alerts, Talkwalker Alerts or any available third-party monitoring platforms
- Utilize your current social media monitoring tools to monitor the crisis in real-time, ensuring that your keyword searches are properly set-up and you have added any additional keywords as it pertains to the crisis
- Ensure you have a process in place and clearly defined roles and responsibilities to control communications on social media, and proactively communicate to all who have access to your accounts on how things will be handled and by whom
- Immediately begin developing materials (i.e. holding statement, press release, media talking points, social media statement, etc.) and determine if the information will be delivered proactively or reactively
- Once drafted, share all written materials with your legal team and all internal decision-makers/ stakeholders for review, edits and feedback
- Disseminate written materials, as needed, upon approval by decision-makers
- Continually monitor for media or social mentions of the issue and continually reassess messaging and the status of the crisis (i.e. Has this crisis passed/ the news has dwindled or is it still active)
- Perform a postmortem following the crisis to refine best practices for the future and update your PR and social media crisis communications guide accordingly
Thank you so much for letting us share some best practices with you. Please note that these suggestions assembled by our team of communications specialists is meant to provide a topline overview of how to navigate the current media and digital climate as a result of COVID-19. We do recommend that prior to putting any of these recommendations into action, you assemble an internal protocol and structure and seek counsel from your legal team, making sure all decisions are run through the proper channels approved by your executive team, board members and other relevant stakeholders.