Public Relations in the Time of Coronavirus

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It goes without saying that the global community is dealing with an unprecedented health crisis, one that is impacting every aspect of individual lives, business operations and international supply chains. For communications professionals, COVID-19 represents a news event that no public relations expert has ever seen before.

Most major stories go through a pretty standard news cycle, where a story breaks, reaches a fever pitch, and then gets filed away in the public mind as yesterday’s news. At a time of 24-hour cable news and the never-ending need to fill the airwaves, most stories tend to peter out after a day- or a few days- at most.

For communicators, the strategy when handling a major news story rarely strays from the following:

Evaluate the event to assess if, and how, it may impact the success of a campaign or story the communicator plans to pitch

Adjust the strategy and narrative to ensure that it won’t be short lived or come across as insensitive

Decide if a brand’s news should be postponed until after the current news cycle is complete

Search for alternative channels to share the story, such as through paid advertising or working with social media influencers

With the ongoing COVID-19 story, however, the news cycle has evolved entirely:

The COVID-19 news cycle will be longer than any seen before

It is unclear which stage of the news cycle that the story has reached, indicating that the COVID-19 narrative is still in its early stages

COVID-19 has impacted nearly every industry and every market on the planet

So what does this mean for brands that want to tell their story in the near future? The answer isn’t one that many companies will like: until the news cycle is capable of handling any story other than the COVID-19 outbreak, companies should hold off from making any major announcements or launching any campaigns.

Pushing ahead with plans made before COVID-19 will only fail to deliver results that may have been achieved six months ago. Instead, companies need to be focusing on how they are communicating with their employees and with their customers.

With a record 3.3 million Americans filing for unemployment benefits this month, businesses need to prioritize the mental health of their employees and manage expectations of furloughs and potential layoffs. Managers must be communicating with their teams often, sending daily updates, calling and using video wherever possible.

In the same way, customers, too, are afraid. They are surely rethinking their spending, and deciding which products are an essential expense over the next few months.

Where possible, companies need to get ahead of these thought processes and prove that their brand is more valuable than ever before. In the absence of meeting vital needs, brands should consider creative pricing structures to keep existing customers engaged without financial strain.

Until COVID-19 stops dominating the headlines, companies need to concentrate on being empathetic and creative.

With employees and customers stuck at home in a time of extreme uncertainty, all brands have a responsibility to re-jig their communications strategies and focus on what is truly important.

Ronn Torossian is the CEO and Founder of 5W Public Relations. 5W PR is a leading digital pr and influencer marketing agency.

Ronn Torossian is CEO & Founder of 5WPR & one of America’s most notable PR executives. He is the Author of best-selling PR book, “For Immediate Release.“

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