The role PR plays in supporting businesses during the coronavirus situation

by Mar 31, 2020PR

Reading time: 4 minutes

There are currently more people indoors now than at any other time in history, but the business world still moves on. Video conferencing, digital tools and remote work are a major reason why the coronavirus hasn’t hit the global economy even harder.

From a communications perspective, we’ve observed the full spectrum of reactions from companies, ranging from total lockdown to significant ramp-ups. Yet now more than ever before, the message counts – with earned media consumption, social engagement and online activity at all-time highs, it could be said that companies who do not communicate right now are effectively invisible.

There is a fine line to follow, however, as your company should be aiming to support people at the time they need it most – and not be seen to take advantage of the distress of others. The right kind of earned media coverage can help others see the value in the work you’re doing – here are our recommendations for performing PR in these uncertain times.


Place your purpose front and center – and live up to your words

According to recent guidelines issued by Facebook, companies with a strong sense of purpose will be able to connect more strongly with customers during these times. Purpose is built around the change you want to make in the world – and the people you will help – to make this happen.

With a purpose like this in place, your actions and the support you choose to give can be easily adjusted to fit the current situation. This will feel more natural to your customers and potential partners, as it will prove you are living out your purpose.


Media consumers want facts, not speculation

Another thing to consider right now is the fact that people are looking for guidance to navigate the current unknowns. By taking purposeful actions – and communicating your findings with the right media, you can share what you have learned and provide valuable insights to a large audience.

There is no playbook for these times, so companies need to focus on communicating what they learn to as many people as possible so we can all benefit together. Earned media channels are better suited to achievements and discoveries than other comms channels, especially as journalists and influencers right now are especially interested in sharing new insights with their readers. Take action and tell others what you’ve learned.


The media landscape has changed – you should do the same

It might be the case that you are still trying to stick to the 2020 editorial calendar with a number of pitches in the pipeline. This needs to change as soon as possible. Your first actions should be to review your entire editorial calendar and see if any of the topics you created can be repurposed to fit the current conditions.

Secondly, as this situation will continue to evolve in unexpected ways, it might not make too much sense to stick to a rigid PR calendar for the next few months. Alternatively, use your vision, mission and purpose statements as long term anchors that guide the stories you will create – but make sure you listen to the current media landscape and react quickly when a story opportunity arises. You should aim to create and distribute stories to the media as quickly as possible to ensure they remain timely.


The role PR plays in supporting businesses during the coronavirus situation | San Francisco Agency - Marketing & PR for Global Growth


Build better internal and external comms processes

Everyone now pretty much works for a dispersed organization, so a system needs to be in place that helps the company as a whole stay on top of developments. The best insights will be collected from the field, so find a way to receive short updates from different customer-facing team members. This will help you notice trends as they emerge across your customers, as well as lifting up important insights that you can share with the media that may otherwise have passed by unnoticed.

From a journalist’s point of view, they are even more pushed for time than before, and we have observed a drop off in responses for less newsworthy pitches. It is therefore critical to create PR campaigns that are as targeted and relevant as possible. Additionally, as journalists are now pretty swamped, – and some are even getting laid off – do keep reaching out, remind them of your pitches, and check to see if you need to forward your emails to a different journalist.


Finally, avoid being tone-deaf

Of course, some industries such as digital services, online delivery, gaming, and e-commerce are booming at present, whereas other industries like consulting and software may see opportunities arising. It is essential, however, that all messaging is considered, thoughtful, useful, and supportive.

The best way to do this is to once again align any messaging you have with your purpose – and to not focus on short term opportunity. Do not mention crash sales in quotes from CEOs, do not mention the new packages you built for coronavirus-affected industries. Instead, provide genuine support where it’s needed with a human touch – give front line workers discounts, do what you can, and your customers will remember in the future.