PR expert reveals how to approach brand communications in unprecedented times
No PR or marketing professional had a plan for how to deal with the current global situation, so everyone is trying their best to react in the best way for their brands, and also engage with people on a human level. The goal is no longer about driving referral traffic which leads to a specific ROI, this is truly about supporting each other, and being there for customers in a way that may well be unchartered territory for a lot of brands.
Laura Smith, Client Services Director at Jaywing PR, shares her top tips and best practice for approaching brand communications in unprecedented circumstances such as these:
There isn’t a one size fits all approach
For our clients at Jaywing PR, we are assessing every single piece of activity individually. There is no single way to look at a potential comment or campaign at the moment, and you need to review everything that you’re currently working on and make a call on if it’s the right thing to do.
For example, last week, we were starting to plan a piece of content for one of our clients about UK festivals – even without the confirmation of cancellations, we made the call to suggest alternatives as early as possible to give us enough time to replace it with a suitable idea. Everyone needs to accept that even the best-laid plans might change in the coming weeks or months – agree sign off processes now to make that easier, and involve as many people as are needed in any initial conversations.
Keep up to date
With so much news emerging every hour, it can be hard to keep up. I’ve found that reviewing the news in the morning, checking Twitter at lunch, and then reading the updates from the PM briefing at 5pm, is enough right now. It means I know what’s going on to advise clients, but I’m not swimming in too much news throughout the day.
Make sure you’re checking reputable channels too – there is so much fake news around, and you don’t want to advise your client based on something that isn’t true. What’s more – if you’re agency-side, chat with your clients, how are they finding the situation? Is there anything that’s particularly worrying them? This will also give you an insight into the type of news they will be keen to see. This still stands if you’re in-house – speak to your colleagues, understand their concerns so you can help them in the best way possible.
Be helpful, understanding and empathetic
Consider your usual tone of voice and content plans – are they appropriate for the current situation? If you’re not sure, listen. Spend time looking at what people are talking about on social media platforms – are they making jokes? Are they looking for an escape? Or, are they seeking advice, or educational content? You know your audience better than anyone, so now’s the time to listen to what they’re saying and make a call on how to move forward based on that.
You also need to consider that people’s lives are changing, and whether or not your brand fits into those changes, their behaviour and interactions with your brand are going to change for some time. How can you support people who are working from home, self-isolating, or have their children at home with them while they’re trying to work? And here’s the million-pound question – should it be you that supports them? If not, don’t be afraid to back off for now, and think of a different way to keep your brand out there. And if there isn’t a way to do that, dial back activity until the time is right, and spend the time now planning and making sure your comeback activity is better than ever.
Speak to experts
We’re in an ever-changing environment right now, for example, Twitter is prohibiting all promoted content that refers to COVID-19 and Facebook banned ads for medical face masks to prevent exploitation. If you think that your content is relevant and should be promoted to more people, speak to your teams about the best course of action. Even if your content isn’t linked, still review it and get as many eyes on it as possible – you should be leaning on your wider internal teams, as well as agencies for support across any channel.
Make sure you know how your agency can help – they will want to support you as much they can during this time. And if you don’t currently work with an agency – find that support on Twitter – we’re sharing updates on successes we’re seeing in our team on Twitter every day, and many others are sharing their experiences and advice.
Can you do something positive?
This will not work for every brand, but think about if you can offer something for free, or do something within your community. Pret is offering free drinks for NHS workers, and many restaurants are delivering free food to the vulnerable.
Now, this isn’t right for everyone, and shouldn’t be seen as a ‘PR stunt’ or ‘brand building opportunity’, even though, ultimately, it could potentially have a positive impact on your brand. Think of it as a way to give back and support your customers through such a difficult time.