Threading the needle on messaging during COVID-19

The current crisis poses many challenges that are a perfect match for a PR pro’s skillset. Here are some ideas for tackling problems for clients—or for your own organization.

Man climbs the steps of collapsing ladder

With the mass interruption to our daily lives, companies are wondering: “What is the best way to navigate through a pandemic? How do we interact with our consumers, staff and stockholders?”

Effective public relations is an essential part of businesses during regular operating hours—and a pandemic makes clear and transparent communication that much more necessary.

Here’s where you should place your focus:

Keep communication strong

Unfortunately, social media doesn’t take a back seat for coronavirus, and misinformation can spread quickly.

When it became clear that COVID-19 would have an extended impact on our lives, music festivals like Coachella began planning to postpone their events to a later date. Sources such as Billboard were making the announcement of new rumored dates days before the production companies made any official statement. Fans expressed their confusion and worry for travel arrangements via Twitter and it wasn’t until Coachella used their own social platforms that the dust settled.

People then expressed excitement for the famous desert festival and applauded them for doing the right thing concerning everyone’s safety.

Plans for the next few months will change for practically everyone, and people will be looking for updates from the official source. Now is not the time to hold back on the measures your company is taking. Send an email, share a social post, and update your website to reflect your current policies and any changes to your business to ensure all channels of communication are unobstructed and speaking in unison.

If plans for the imminent future are in jeopardy and your team is trying to make new arrangements for the foreseeable future—be it with operating hours, payments or safety measures—keep everyone updated along the way. Staying ahead of the story will show that your company is doing everything in its power to execute what’s best for its staff, customers, fans and followers.

Sincerity breeds trust

Right now, people are adapting to a new normal, possibly out of a job, ill or learning about a tragedy concerning a loved-one. Being sensitive and offering support is critical for all messaging.

Understandably, many companies have had to shift budgets and allocate resources elsewhere. Like many others, we’ve had to respond and shift accordingly to our client’s needs. It’s important to not take it personally. Everyone is being forced to make quick hard decisions. Working together to find a happy medium will help us all get through this hard time and back to business as quickly as possible.

Communication goes both ways

Not only does your audience want to hear from you, but they also want to be heard. Be proactive in setting up the ways in which your consumers can get in touch with you if they have any questions or concerns regarding your business.

Answer questions honestly and let them know that their messages are heard and their opinions matter. Extended wait times for a response may be inevitable, but you can supplement that waiting period with numerous avenues for two-way communication. Online chats, customer service emails, or traditional hotlines should be set up so that people can quickly contact you.

Ensure the message isn’t lost in translation

In all the effort to maintain a healthy relationship with your consumer base, it might be easy to overlook the value of keeping your team connected.

Remember that your staff is working through the pandemic as well, and all the same feelings of uncertainty and ambiguity apply to them. Be transparent in your work policies as your staff transitions to a primarily remote environment and offer solutions for maintaining contact. Phone calls and video meetings should become more frequent, and apps like Zoom, G Suite and Slack can be implemented to ensure everyone is on the same page for ongoing projects and the outgoing message for all your clients.

The same principles apply when communicating any new changes: Be compassionate, honest, and clear.

Treading water back to ‘normal’

It’s tricky to determine what’s appropriate right now. Is it insensitive to promote the purchase of consumer products as a way to pass time, or in an effort to experience a familiar routine?

Researchers at Duke University found that 40% of our behaviors on any given day are driven by habit, so establishing a morning routine you enjoy will maximize your productivity throughout your work-from-home experience. Therefore, you could pitch clients to serve this human need.

For example, many of the products from the beauty brands we work can lift spirits or enhance a look for video conferencing. Or a coffee subscription service may actually be a solution for coffee lovers looking for a caffeine routine.

Giving back

Think about feasible ways your company can make a difference, donate medical supplies to essential job fields, give your products to healthcare workers or offer a percentage of profits to charity efforts helping to stop the spread of COVID-19.

It’s a genuine form of public relations that doubles as promotional value for your company.

Sara Spiegel is the CEO and founder of With Sara Public Relations.

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