Should you do PR during a pandemic? Here’s four strategies to help


The PR Hub founder Samantha Dybac. Source: supplied.

One of the first things we ask about when we advise clients on public relations strategies is their key business objectives for the next 12 months. Everything a business does, including its marketing and PR, should lead back to supporting the overall business goals. 

But what happens at a time like this, when a once-in-a-lifetime event turns everything upside down? How do you plan when you can’t forecast what will happen in a week, let alone three months, six months or even a year? And how do you build a communications strategy (and a budget to go with it) in such extraordinary times?

One of the core competencies for a successful PR strategy at any time is clear, well thought out communication that addresses each of your customer or stakeholder segments, and times like these are no exception. As a business owner or head of brand and marketing, you might be feeling like PR has no place in a pandemic, but this could not be further from the truth.

However, it’s essential to be sensitive to the unique conditions of the situation. Make sure the stories and angles you’re looking to promote fit within the current climate, and educate, inspire or inform, rather than sell and annoy.

Here are four key things to consider. 

Is it relevant?

Whatever you do, do not capitalise on tragedy or try to make a connection between your brand and the pandemic where there isn’t one. The pandemic affects everyone, globally, and any social media post, phone call or press release that appears to be ‘profiteering’ while others suffer will instantly damage your credibility.

Now is not the time to be sending out releases about your client becoming an ambassador for a brand, or bragging about how well set up you are to withstand a crisis when others should have been more prepared. Instead, be brutally honest about assessing what you have to offer right now. If you think your idea is just PR for PR’s sake, don’t do it. 

Do, however, think about any relevant advice or insights you can offer from your own experience, and if there is an opportunity to share it, do so. 

How can you help?

If you can extend your services or resources to help others without affecting your health or breaking the bank, now is the time to do it.

One of our clients in the hospitality tech space has seen a large part of their existing business grind to a halt as social distancing restrictions have closed down food and drink venues across the country. But rather than fall in a heap, they immediately switched to thinking about how their existing technology could be used and tweaked to help the industry.

They worked around the clock to ramp up an existing part of their business to be faster and more efficient. Now, they can get restaurants wanting to pivot from dine-in to delivery or take-away online and taking orders in two hours, where it used to take two weeks.

They’ve also been innovative and introduced additional functions to the technology to limit touch points, and therefore the risk of spreading disease, for pick-up orders. These are the sorts of good news stories people want to hear, and by telling these stories more people can potentially access the service and keep their businesses afloat and employees on the books.

Respond to journalist callouts

With the world currently fixated on new developments in the COVID-19 crisis, journalists are under pressure to constantly find new angles to meet the needs of the news cycle. In particular, they will be searching for stories of how businesses are adjusting to the new normal or helping others to act as case studies.

One way to actively seek out these opportunities is to look for journalist callouts. Journalists often reach out to the public through social media and other tools to find specific sources for their articles. Search news sites to find out who covers your industry and follow them on Twitter and LinkedIn to keep up with anything they might be looking for and start building meaningful connections with them.

There are also dedicated services for journalist seeking sources – SourceBottle, Qwoted and Help A Reporter Out (HARO) are some examples. They are free to join and can be great places to learn more about what journalists need.

Add value and think outside traditional media

Don’t limit your thinking on communication channels to media pitches. The coronavirus has undoubtedly caused a jump in social media use, and some reports are indicating as much as a 76% increase in engagement on certain channels.

Your existing customers and stakeholders are looking for reassurance, education and leadership now more than ever. Don’t discount the power of existing or new online channels to stay in touch and keep people informed about what you’re doing, how you’re managing the business at this time, and any other insights or value you can add. It could be as short as a statement from the CEO on a letterhead, or regular video messages to your followers that update them on your supply chain or innovative things you’re doing to help them and others during the crisis. 

Importantly, all of the above doesn’t necessarily require you going out and hiring a PR agency to assist, especially if your budgets have been reduced. What it does require is some thought about what you can offer and how best to communicate it during uncertain times.

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