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PR and the pandemic: Rethinking your communications strategies

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Blue Array provide a guide for brands to follow as to whether they should comment on the current pandemic.

Even for the most prepared of brands, there likely isn’t a marketing crisis plan to follow the Covid-19 pandemic. Not only that, but the decision around if - or how - to communicate to the press, or your customers, isn’t an easy one. The digital PR team here at Blue Array has been busy advising their clients on the ifs and hows of communications in this trying time. From this, one thing is clear: although this pandemic affects each brand uniquely, there are also many shared challenges.

Your pandemic PR strategy

It is second nature to want to be a part of a conversation around something that is affecting the entire world. However, even communications with the best of intentions can damage a brand’s reputation. After all, do you really want to associate your brand with a global crisis? Here are some questions to ask yourself before you rush to put together a press release:

Is this relevant?

Now is the time to stay within your area of expertise, not the time to start making tenuous links between your industry and the coronavirus. Please do not try and make a connection where there is none. Journalists (and their readers) are intelligent enough to know what you are doing.

We’ve seen several recent tweets and comments from journalists expressing anger over the influx of press releases from companies trying to connect themselves to the current news agenda. Journalists have long memories - they will not forget. One journalist said she is saving these press releases for future reference - brands and PRs she will not work with again. Is this potential damage to your brand’s reputation worth it? Think again.

Do you have something valuable to add?

Do you have something to contribute that is of actual value, or a perspective that would be a valuable addition to the current conversation? Be honest with yourself. Maybe ask an objective third party to be sure. If you don’t have anything to say, but you think you should just say something, please don’t. Journalists do not want your press releases on this. It is now more important than ever to check that what you are putting in your press release is actually newsworthy. If you are trying to hook your brand to newsjack the current conversation, you are taking a big risk, and in this case, the risk definitely outweighs the reward.

Is this a PR stunt?

PR stunts can go wrong very easily. The entire country, if not the world, is highly emotional right now, making it very risky for anything that can be seen as attempting to profit off of the back of a pandemic that is causing pain and suffering. You may have the best of intentions, but even the seemingly most well thought-out PR stunts have backfired. Also: Have you seen the latest “Imagine” video? Not even a star-studded cast of A-list actors and comedians can inspire right now.

But we did a thing!

That’s great. Well done! Think hard before you put it in a press release.

Side rant: Really think about what to send out in a marketing email to your customers as well. It’s basically like GDPR all over again with the amount of ‘How is responding to Coronavirus’ email spam happening. Be honest about what your real relationship is with your customer when making the decision to communicate or not. Do they really need your brand adding to the noise in their lives right now? Probably not.

What you can do

We’ve talked about what you should ask, and a lot about what you shouldn’t do - but what can you do?

Use this opportunity to help people in your industry

If there have been rounds of redundancy at other companies in your industry, why not see what you can do to help those who have been made redundant because of the pandemic.

Look for requests from journalists

Even communications with the best of intentions can damage a brand’s reputation, and you do not want to be seen to capitalise on a tragedy. Instead, why not have a look and see what journalists are asking for and respond to those queries.

Use this time to prepare for the future

While your current efforts are on hold, why not use this time to plan your next campaign? Life may not go back to how we previously knew it, but it will go back to a new normal. And when it does, you’ll be ready with a cracking PR campaign.

Amie Sparrow, digital PR manager at Blue Array.

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