How to Communicate Through Digital PR During, and Post-Pandemic
Content Marketing

How to Communicate Through Digital PR During, and Post-Pandemic

21st April 2020

In this current climate, the decision around how to communicate to the press or customers isn’t the most straight forward. COVID-19 has shocked us all, and even for the most prepared of brands, they are unlikely to have foreseen and developed a marketing crisis plan to follow during this pandemic. Unless maybe you are Wimbledon who has been taking pandemic insurance our since 2003 around the time of the SARs outbreak. They are set to have a pay-out estimated at around £114m following its decision to cancel its tennis championships this year.

But for the majority of businesses, we are presented with shared challenges that we all need to navigate. We are truly living in unprecedented times!

Is there such a thing as a PR Pandemic Strategy? Well yes, but it’s likely to feed into a wider business strategy. A lot of what I talk about in this advice article will feed into and advise on Marcoms in general.

What is there to learn from China?

I think it’s important to fact find and learn from China. Whilst a different culture, some parallels can benefit us. China is a digital-first economy and has a strong online infrastructure. Marry this with a robust retail sector, there has been a shift and growth in shopping online as a result of the pandemic. People who weren’t previously comfortable online, are now forced to work and shop in this manner.

A recent study from Kantar gives some insight into how consumers expect businesses to act during the coronavirus pandemic based on China’s behaviours. They have some nice content to help PRs through this period which you can find here. They saw certain sectors affected by the grip of COVID-19, notably many with decreased spending.

Cision Data

There is a cultural difference to take into account, but there has been decreased spending across many business sectors. I know a lot of us are experiencing this, and especially some travel and education clients who have been hit hard.

So what will work at the moment?

The other ongoing dynamic, is that consumers are trying new things, such as online entertainment, online consultations, and online fitness groups. We need to pay attention to these changes in consumer mindsets, and it needs to be reflected in our marketing and comms. Some businesses may even need to pivot completely. But from a PR perspective, my advice is to shift your focus from brand promotion and instead look at ways that you can genuinely help and support your audience. Perhaps with a little focus on home occasion marketing, seeing as we’re all self-isolating.

It’s important to not stop PR, as your audience still wants and needs to hear from you. And editors still need news stories outside of the pandemic to share with their audience.

The big change is that your planned content might need to be adapted slightly, but the hook and angles of your content will most likely still be relevant, as they were created for a purpose and need to be promoted. But your focus will naturally shift to more reactive PR opportunities.

Either way, if you are pulling together a new PR strategy, start by asking these questions:

  • Is coronavirus impacting my audience, and if so, how, and can I help them?
  • Will my audience’s priorities shift as a result of the current climate? How should my outreach content and messaging change to reflect that?
  • Does coronavirus impact our own product/service offering, and if so, how can we communicate that to our audience?

Your answers to these questions can help you identify if you have content that needs adjusting, or if you need to add content to your schedule. Adapt and align with new behaviours, brands need to change at the pace that consumers are changing.

So, what is working for us digital PRs in the industry? A few leading industry influencers have highlighted recent successful campaigns, and shared with commentary on Twitter. Check them out below and they’re also worth following if you don’t already.

  • James Brockbank from Digitaloft’s inspiration thread on Twitter here.
  • Sarah Fleming from Kaizen’s inspiration thread on Twitter here.
  • Sean Fitzsimon from Verve Search’s inspiration thread here.
  • Beth Nunnington from Journey Further’s inspiration thread here.
  • And as for me, here is my inspiration thread on what has worked for the Motive PR team.
  • It’s also worth following Digital PR Examples on Twitter, as they regularly post successful and timely campaigns for inspiration.

Another important trend is for brands to be authentic, and this authenticity needs to be a thread through all external comms. The recent study from Kantar revealed that 75% of people want to know how brands are reacting to the current pandemic. And another 78% are urging brands to take care of their employees during this time. So be transparent and honest, your audience will appreciate it and remember the approach you took.

Emotional intelligence is also more important than ever now. Brands need to build human connections and behave with integrity to be noticed and valued. This is communicated through your campaigns. Recognise every action you or your client takes, big or small, during and after the crisis sends a loud message. It signals the leadership and marketing team’s values and priorities to every employee and customer.

Brands that struggle with the digital world and do not understand how to market will fall behind. This changing behaviour may be irreversible, so get wit the times.

Risk management in digital PR, and the wider business, requires three things:

  • Prediction: Have we identified the right scenarios and understood the current environment?
  • Adaptation: Are there new ways of working so we can adapt as the scenarios change?
  • Resilience: Are our processes and decision-making resilient to help move with uncertainty?

Companies that hurry back to old ways of working may very well stumble in the decade to come. The pandemic has allowed you and your team to transform for a more turbulent world.

What do you need to do to kick on post-pandemic?

I like to think that this period allows in-house teams and agencies to get their ducks in a row, and get ready to push on post-pandemic. There are going to be rebound sectors, and Kantar shared those sectors that picked up in China.

These trends can inform your strategy moving forwards. What do brands need to do to get ready for rebound sectors? Use the following actions as an indication of activity to consider:

  • Get your case studies in these sectors ready to go. Show success, and if you can, value for money.
    • This includes new testimonials for your creds doc.
  • Build your trust points across all channels.
    • Reviews strategy to gather 5 stars across TrustPilot, Google, Reviews.co.uk, or your preferred tool.
    • Look to grow your social profiles, and put in place a growth strategy. You also need to prioritise shouting about your success more.
  • Refresh your customer persona docs in line with the ‘new normal’.
  • Refresh your on and off-site blogging strategy in line with these upcoming sectors/new personas.
  • Keep doing excellent work and getting good coverage.
  • Important that brands don’t lose sight of the short and long term strategies. So keep these at the forefront of your digital PR work.
  • Invest in professional development and innovation. What are your colleague’s skills gap?
    • Communication and content that cuts through the clutter is more challenging than ever. How do you bypass this and get ahead?

Hopefully this has sparked a few considerations that will help you come out the other side of this pandemic ready to get after it. The good news is that web browsing is up by 70% and social media usage up by 61% since the coronavirus pandemic started. This means that your audience is more present than ever before, but you need to get in front of them.

Customers might not be ready to spend now, but when they are ready you need to be at the forefront of their strategy.

So if you have the house in order and ready to go, you will be well placed to either build on your audience and for those agency side compete for new business.

If you want to read more actionable tips on what you can be doing to compete better, here is another great article for you to read. 👇🏼

Practical Ways to Compete Online in Times of Crisis

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Written By
Alex is PR Director at Motive PR. He has specialist expertise in digital PR and content marketing. With extensive offline and online experience, Alex currently helps clients increase their visibility through PR, at the same time as building on their search engine marketing efforts.
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