6 PR strategies to help your brand through the COVID-19 pandemic
PR pros share some of the tactics that are working to engage audiences during the global pandemic.
Editor’s note: This article is a re-run as part of our countdown of top stories from the past year.
PR strategies that worked for brands two months ago might not be effective today. The key to surviving and thriving through the crisis is flexibility and a willingness to adapt to new ways of doing business.
In the decade from 2009 to 2019, the role of PR pros shifted from press release distribution and mass pitching to a more refined and targeted approach, focused on storytelling and thought leadership. So, how’s storytelling and thought leadership faring in the current environment? Better than ever.
While it’s hard to predict what changes will come over the next few months, here are six strategies that can help you recalibrate your PR plans right now and survive—or even thrive.
- Thought leadership
Consider how you (or your client) might add value to people in your industry during this time, and orient your PR strategy around those key points.
The caveat here is to only position yourself as an expert on something you’re actually an expert on. Resist the urge to take advantage of the global crisis just to score some publicity. People can spot the difference between someone who’s just looking for media attention, and someone who truly has expert insights to share.
Consider the following questions while developing a thought leadership strategy:
- What unique solutions do you have for businesses in your industry?
- How might your expertise ease people’s fears?
- How can you lead your community through the crisis?
Media outlets, reporters and editors are actively seeking thought leaders and experts to provide insights, expertise and advice on relevant and timely topics. If you have expertise to offer, now is the time to step up and lead.
- Enhanced technology
The digital transformation is fully upon us, with more people working from home than ever before.
“AI will bring practical utility to PR roles,” says Andrew Cross, vice president of public relations at Walker Sands. “Solutions from companies like Narrative Science and Automated Insights are increasingly automating the process of content creation, which has big implications for media relations professionals as well as corporate communication practitioners.”
In the coming months and years, insights gleaned from real-time data will be sharper and more on-point than ever. Today’s public relations professionals should be prepared to back up how well their PR strategy is working with quantitative data, especially at a time when many brands are operating with a lean marketing and PR budget.
- The human element
Seventy percent of online consumers say they trust the opinions of influencers as much—if not more—than they trust the opinions of their real-life friends. In a Coronavirus world, people are looking to influencers and leaders they trust to navigate them through the challenging times.
Where does that trust come from? Followers believe they have a personal relationship with these cultural icons that goes far deeper than brand promotion. Press releases and white papers will always have a place in a PR campaign—but these days, they’re taking a back seat to narrative.
Potential customers and clients want to hear real stories from real people more than they want to read miscellaneous quotes sprinkled aimlessly across dozens of websites and publications. A savvy PR expert will help brands curate a media presence in a strategic manner that emphasizes transparency and promotes the human element.
Angelica Poprawa of Head & Head PR explains further, “[Success] relies on really honing down the message of what the brand stands for. People are looking to buy less, and they are willing to spend time to look for the products and brands that align with their ideals.”
- Fewer channels
In a crisis environment, the PR emphasis will not be upon maintaining a presence across multiple channels and mediums, but instead upon optimizing that presence and meeting your audience where they’re at.
PR professionals should help clients make strategic decisions about which channels to double down on, and which marketing and communication channels to leave behind.
“Expect more brands to leverage SEO and PR efforts to dominate the search engine results pages (SERPs) for branded keywords,” says Calloway Cook, President of Illuminate Labs.
“Many brands are still neglecting the brand positioning benefits of owning 5+ of the top 10 results for their branded keywords. It really adds to the legitimacy of the brand in the eyes of the consumer.”
The role of the SEO strategist and PR pro will continue to overlap, as earned media placements lead the way as the most relevant way to earn backlinks.
- Election cycle newsjacking
With COVID-19 dominating headlines and the presidential election heating up, brands will be competing with politics and breaking news for valuable time on TV and editorial calendars. This will make the world of media relations even more competitive for PR pros throughout 2020.
Matt Seltzer, Market Research and Strategy Consultant at S2 Research elaborates, “The political climate is also going to polarize audiences, which means PR pros need to either jump on hot-topic bandwagons, or provide something that contrasts completely from the overall feel of the media. If it’s sad, angry news, pitch something that fits into that narrative, or something tremendously more uplifting.”
The takeaway? Don’t continue to send the same pitches to the media that you were sending two months ago. Not only will the pitches come across as insensitive, but they’re also not relevant to the types of stories people want to see right now.
Blair Nicole is the CEO and founder of Media Moguls PR.