Headlines about COVID-19 have been dominating the news in recent weeks. While people are mainly concerned about taking care of their health by practicing social distancing, news stories are also addressing the major impact coronavirus has had on businesses and industries worldwide. It may seem like business is the last thing on people’s minds, but don’t let that discourage you from using this time to develop your business and create a PR strategy.
The brand image you create can influence on your reputation as a company in the long term. Many companies have recognized this and taken steps to protect their employees and businesses. During times of crisis, it is important that brands address the issues at hand with tact, empathy and mindful marketing.
It is evident that people all over the world are in a constant state of anxiety and less attentive to business development efforts or product launches. In this environment, businesses might need to modify their marketing and PR tools to reach customers whose minds are occupied by the pandemic.
So how do you conduct empathetic marketing during a crisis?
Every brand is different but there are basic action plans that can help brands of all sizes make the right choices and avoid serious mistakes during hard times. There are certain things you can focus on during this time and there are steps you can take to adapt your PR and marketing.
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Steps to take:
1) Work from home
It is important to be sensible and run your business from home during this time. Allow your employees to work from home as much as possible. By insisting on workers coming to the office during this pandemic you might gain negative publicity, especially if your company is just starting out.
2) Think about how to tell your story
At the moment, journalists and reporters have many stories to tell about the pandemic so it is very important that you word your story wisely and evaluate the timing and tone of your pitch. Are there any elements of your story which may make it seem insensitive? Does it seem like you’re pursuing profits at a time when a lot of people are struggling? Don’t capitalize on the crisis, everyone is going through it. It’s important to avoid seeming like you’re out to exploit people.
Keep people informed about the crisis by communicating your response to it and how it’s affecting the business. You can create news-centric content that adds value to customer relationships, but don’t be a jerk about it. Keep them informed but don’t make them panic, share information that is legitimate and avoid using overly dramatic language.
3) Be informed on the news
The news at the moment is not just based on the outbreak itself, but how it’s changing daily aspects of life – falling stock markets, a worldwide travel freeze, overwhelmed healthcare systems, and grocery stores struggling to cope with the major impact of customers.
Figure out what wave of coverage you fit into. The pattern of news cycles is usually “breaking news” first and then follow-up stories which are related to the pandemic. So, even if your piece doesn’t fit into the first wave, you might be able to write a follow-up piece.
4) Stay relevant to your audience
Whatever your product/service is, look for ways to put your audience’s needs over yours. Of course you want to give new information, but think of the things that your clients may need.
Make sure that your audience knows that you are there for them; remind yourself what your brand stands for and how it can relate to the pandemic. Always be personable and help them realize you’re not a robot devoid of human emotion when trying to communicate with them.
For example, if you help people with their finances on a regular basis, you might want to create content on ways that they can save money during this pandemic and how they can adapt if business is slow.
5) Tailor your press releases/launches
Of course, adapting your press releases and launches to your business environment is always important, but right now tailored pitches might be fundamental to the survival of your business. It might be in bad taste to look like you’re simply going on with business as usual with little consideration to the plight of your customers.
Before publishing a press release or launching a new product, think about how the products or services you’re promoting can help your customers during this hard time. You don’t want it to seem like you’re just after your customers’ money. Make it clear that you care about them and you’re launching new products and services with them in mind.
6) Evaluate your imagery and language
Visuals are one of the major forms of communicating and it is very important to think of the message that you are trying to convey. Be considerate of the type of language you are using in your push content (email subject lines, social media posts, current campaign taglines, content, and blogs). Try to help your audience feel comfortable – avoid mentioning anything related to getting sick or being in close contact with other people.
7) Work on back-burner projects
Most likely, there are projects which have been set aside because they weren’t a priority. Now would be the perfect time to give those projects your attention. It could be something like updating your brand message, creating and publishing a new website, or developing a thought-leadership strategy. It’s the perfect time for those projects.
8) Focus on online services
Look for ways to do things online to support your marketing and PR strategies. You can create webinars if that’s something you do so that people can log in from the comfort of their home. You can even do a live video on social media channels to engage your audience.
If you haven’t already done it, try using paid ads because they are becoming a lot cheaper. Big ad networks need small businesses to drive up the cost per click for ads so that bigger corporations have to spend more money on ads. Because the virus has forced many businesses to suspend some operations or close everything, there are fewer advertisers, so the ads are cheaper. It is clear that paid ads are producing a much higher ROI than before the pandemic.
9) Build up your social media
If people weren’t on social media enough already, they’re definitely flocking to social media now. This is a trend you can take advantage of. Make sure your information is up to date and look for ways to add some flair to your social media profiles. You should also upload content that keeps you and your brand relevant and speaks to your audience.
10) Understand that resources are limited
Develop a wide-ranging public relations strategy. While media houses and journalists are trying to maintain their niche reporting, they are currently still prioritizing stories about the pandemic. Spend extra time and effort on developing an effective story angle which will grab media attention. It’s also important to remember that media relations is only one of many public relations tactics – you can boost your media relations efforts by engaging other PR tactics.
11) Focus on what’s important
Even if you are trying to take your time and give your customers time to recover from this crisis, it does not mean that you should do nothing. If you aren’t getting any engagement from the people you’re reaching out to, try upgrading your messaging to make it more effective and relatable. If you’ve had issues in the past with creating content for your blog or social media channels, now would be a great time to create content that can be scheduled in the future. Use this time to experiment and come up with strategies which will create long-term engagement.
12) Optimize your digital spaces
This is the perfect time to make sure that your digital spaces are fully optimized. You can clean up and refine your SEO and marketing strategies to make sure your content is as visible as possible. Update all your information, figure out what is and isn’t working in your strategy and adjust your tactics and budget once you have figured it out.
It’s also important that you let your customers know you’re still open during this time. One way to get the message across is through Google Ads campaigns because it is the best way to reach customers who intend to buy quickly. You can also use social media ads to reach your audience. Online advertising is a good way to maintain demand for your product or service. Create something different and attractive to the consumer, which may include discounts.
13) Look at long-term goals
Remember that companies are designed for the long term – dedication and perseverance is required to build brand visibility, thought leadership, market competitiveness and reputation. Startup evaluation may be at a standstill or declining, but this would be a great time to figure out exactly what you want for your business.
14) Looks for ways to help
At this time, it is important not to be selfish. You need to figure out ways to help your community. Whether it is with resources, technology, or skills, you need to look outward and ask yourself what you can do to help others get through this crisis.
Try doing something that you’ve never done before. If you have features that you used to charge for, like premium features, you could provide these to customers for free. This way, you are still providing them with a service and when things go back to being relatively settled, they might be willing to pay for that service or refer others to it.
Communicate the benefits of your company; clarify the unique value of it during this time. Answer the question: Does your product give people things to do while at home? Does it help people do their jobs without physical interaction? Make sure you create helpful content to educate, entertain, or inspire people.
15) Be prepared to change your budget
Buyer behavior will definitely change a lot during this period, so brace yourself to accommodate these changes in your budget. Whether it is the amount of money that you are spending on PPC, keywords, or even traditional marketing methods, it is important to factor all of those things in. Use your budget wisely because you don’t know what will happen, so maybe even invest in a long-term plan and hire agencies or purchase press kits to master proper marketing strategies.
It is very important that you stay patient during this time – you need to tweak your marketing and PR efforts to reach your usual audience. Everyone is distracted by the pandemic right now so try to employ creative strategies. If you believe that you can successfully capture attention, make sure that your main concern is the public. It’s not ideal to get bad press about your new company because you seem inconsiderate of what everyone is going through.
Since we will all be spending a lot of time at home and on the computer, why not get a press kit so you can familiarize yourself with the art of PR even if you are not about to start a business? I also encourage you to stay active online, answer any questions that your customers might have and let them know that you’re still there and you’re looking out for their best interests. Remind them that we will all get through this together.