During this unprecedented moment, the most important thing communicators can do is to be available. The pandemic strikes at will. Traditional business hours do not apply. Communicators who deliver proactive counsel and a clear understanding of support they can offer will be well positioned for success. In addition, they will be ready when normal operations resume.
As newsrooms focus on round-the-clock coverage of coronavirus, brands are debating the proper level of external communication. While prudence is in order, a complete stop of external messaging can open the door for unnecessary losses in engagement or share of voice.
In addition, communicators should emphasize how activities such as media relations can be redirected to ensure strategic communications smoothly resume when the time is right. Nobody knows when that will be, but an absence of information does not excuse a lack of planning.
This is a time where communicators can shine. Though they should do this always, a priority should be making the lives of those they represent as easy as possible. Begin with a reallocation of work to projects that add value and maintain continuity.
Here are tactics to consider:
Plan Now; Pitch Later
As we know, timing is a critical component of strategic communications. When should a brand kick off a campaign to maximize non-virus messaging? At the moment, the answer probably is: “Not right now.” Delays, though, do not mean halting preparation. For example, PR pros can develop op-eds that will be ready for publication for a campaign’s new launch date.
Expect push back. Companies will say they don’t have time to prep for eventual campaigns. A communicator worth their salt can work with minimal direction. Be flexible; request a brief discussion, whether it’s a five-minute call or bulleted email. Gain approval on recommended messages.
Refine the Crisis Communication Plan
The virus has left some industries relatively untouched. For those lucky few, the time to plan is now. Brand communicators and agencies alike should review worst-case outcomes that could result from the pandemic. For example, look at how others are communicating layoffs and related policies. Work now to update crisis communications plans to address those possibilities. For those without crisis communications plans, this moment provides an obvious argument about why one is needed immediately.
Revise Event Plans
Most communicators start the year developing a list tracking important industry events and opportunities around them. Though they are few, new dates and details for events slowly are becoming available. Do everything you can to update original plans to ensure those you represent are ready to participate in rescheduled engagements.
For example, compile an industry-wide rescheduling document. This is particularly important for nonprofits reliant on annual fundraising events. Agencies should empower clients with counsel that will ensure their rescheduled events will secure the funds to keep their doors open for another year.
Rather than stopping all elements of campaigns, communicators can work with those they represent to determine which tactics to pause and which to continue. In most cases, media relations unrelated to the pandemic can pause, while communications like e-newsletters should continue to maintain engagement with key stakeholders.
Team members with extra bandwidth after these decisions are made can tackle projects that often take a back seat to mission-critical activities, such as researching competitive messaging, brainstorming and updating websites.
Michael Munz is president of Dalton Agency's PR & social media group