The COVID-19 pandemic is causing businesses to shutter, as well as individuals to be hyperaware of their health habits and take shelter until the crisis is resolved. The question many are asking is: “When will this all be fixed?”
The truth of our reality is that we don’t know.
Our role as PR professionals is not only to be in-the-know, but to give advice to our clients when they need it most—and that time is now.
By acknowledging the current times, being empathetic and shifting media strategy in this new normal, PR pros are sharing with clients how they can connect with their customers and the community in the face of this impact. Here’s how:
1. Acknowledge the challenges.
It’s so important to acknowledge in correspondence with your clients and customers what is happening.
As reported in the Miami New Times, a popular cruise line recently misled its guests about COVID-19 by having sales staff tell them the only thing they needed to worry about for their upcoming cruise was bringing enough sunscreen. The cruise line ignored the pandemic, as well as the financial and health concerns that were looming for many. Their response is a perfect example of what not to do—and as you can imagine, this response caused a media storm that generated negative press for the cruise line.
In acknowledging the current times, you can establish and build trust and confidence with others that can have a long-lasting impact. Avoiding the truth is bad practice for any business and providing relevant updates won’t cause a panic. It shows that you’re informed and understanding the given situation.
When the state of the world returns to normal, individuals will remember how businesses responded to the pandemic and during this time of need.
2. Be empathetic.
Now, more than ever, businesses must be thoughtful in how they communicate updates related to COVID-19. The pandemic that has taken over our daily lives, businesses and society at large are forcing us to rethink how we react during times of crisis. Practicing empathy in statements, newsletters, social media announcements and other avenues of communication can help establish rapport with customers. Or, perhaps, it just shows that businesses care—and isn’t that enough?
However, having empathy goes beyond a written statement. It must extend to action.
Are businesses that have the financial capacity donating to non-profit organizations serving those less privileged? Have they developed multiple solutions to solve current issues that customers are facing? Most important, are they taking measures that exemplify they sincerely care about their employees, their customers and the community as a whole?
3. Position client spokespeople in the media.
While many businesses choose to address COVID-19 solely online, on social media or with e-newsletters, you can also pitch clients for stories on how to stay afloat throughout this pandemic. For instance, offering a client spokesperson for TV news segments to provide expert insight or resourceful information on what they are doing to stay in business can set an example for similar companies.
Or, offer your client for news articles to highlight that they are knowledgeable and trusted sources when it comes to addressing a crisis as a business.
In a sea of statements, social media announcements and email newsletters, putting your client in the media asserts their authority in their field.
If a PR pro or spokesperson from that cruise line were to go on national TV and address the elephant in the room (how they avoided discussing the pandemic) then maybe they would start to regain back the respect of guests who are no longer interested in cruising aboard their ships again, with or without sunscreen.
Barbara Gretsch and Rebecca Astorga work for MSSmedia, a PR agency headquartered in Miami, Florida.