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It’s not business as usual: PR in times of Corona

Before the Coronavirus became so dominant in our everyday lives, you were likely strategising which communication campaigns to pursue to meet your 2020 goals. Right? So were we! Well… that turned out differently. The virus forced us to revise communication plans, cancel or postpone events. But what does this mean for all those PR stories we want to tell that have nothing to do with Corona? Should we put them on hold until further notice or can we create opportunities? Do people only want to be informed about the Corona situation, or is it legitimate to talk about other topics as well? Do we dare to call a journalist at all to pitch a story? And as a journalist, how many press releases can you endure about companies responding to the Corona crisis?

Dissection of the current media climate

For many companies all marketing and PR communications came to a standstill. Journalists on the other hand are busier than ever, if anyone is working overtime – aside from our healthcare heroes – it is them. After an enormous peak of Corona news, there will be a news vacuum in the next few weeks. Apart from news media, there are also lifestyle media (which have not been paused) looking for content to fill their pages. But before we start pitching whatever stories, think twice and wise.

It is extremely difficult to activate brands in times of crisis. In our opinion everything should be aimed at investing in a distinctive brand story right now. There is no doubt about it that many organizations have interesting announcements to make, Corona related or not. There is however a sensitive line between providing useful and valuable information and being seen as trying to profit from a catastrophe.

OK so that is clear now, how can you move forward?

1.Planned initiatives

You do not have to pause all your communication tactics, but consider how you can position your product launch in a way that feels more appropriate for this moment in time. Acknowledge some of the challenges consumers are currently facing.Consider a virtual event and see it as a great opportunity to connect with your target audiences. Or why not distributing a “narrated press release”, instead of just distributing the text by email.

2. Spreading news
If there is Corona related news, first, your subject should have a clear link to the current situation.  The clearer the link, the more newsworthy it is. Think of ‘Solidarity for all’, an initiative to collect goods for refugees or the initiative or the #shopinjekot initiative from Brantano, ICI Paris XL, JBC, Torfs en ZEB.

If you have appropriate non-Corona related news to share, handle (for example) a new collection launch with respect, understanding and empathy for the situation. Show that you feel the struggles customers are currently going through. Example: VSCO launched new storytelling features. VSCO directly addressed the current environment with the “share your perspective with us” message, the challenges we’re facing as humans, and how its tools can help us connect.

Checklist to test your (PR) story:

  • Always think about your audience and customer first: how will they perceive your message?
  • Consider the level of product focus: is your message too self-serving? Is it authentic and aligned with the current environment?
  • Adapt your product offering and (marketing) language: how will the product be perceived and consider ways to pivot the launch.

3. Spread some positivity

With the world fighting dark times, people (and so journalists) are craving for positive news to consume. Google trends revealed that ‘good news’ searches are at an all-time high. Since January 2020, the search rate boomed, because people are also welcoming distractions to get their minds off the daily news cycles. Example: the nostalgic comeback of Ijsboerke.

4. Recyle

Have a look at your PR timeline, what content can be re-used? It might be a press release with DIY ideas to entertain kids. Or share recipe inspiration, since we have more time than ever to challenge our inner chef. Put it in a different layout and adapt de copy as per the circumstances. Have you thought about (re)sharing some figures from a recent study? Recycling extends your content reach, effectiveness and lifetime value.

5. Final reco? Ask your community what concerns them

Possibly the best way to communicate with your community? Ask them exactly how they want to hear from you. You know your customers best, some may have a less-is-more attitude, while others will want frequent updates and communications. Listen to customer feedback, re-evaluate your existing communication/marketing plans and adjust them accordingly.

The conclusion?

While reviewing your PR plans, it is key to keep an open mind and think outside the box. Above all, the most important advice is to remain positive. Brands can and will continue to grow in uncertain times, there are always winners.

Want to hear more?

Our colleague Sara De Bruyne was invited to share her thoughts on this topic in DIFT’s ‘Let’s put the co&vid in COVID’ podcast series. Available through Spotify or Podbean.

And in the meantime: stay safe!