WORDS BY Sophie McGrath
How the PR industry is adapting to a tumultuous time.
Fact: A job in public relations features in the top 10 most stressful jobs in the world. But I always say PR isn’t ER – we’re not saving lives like our heroes in hospitals, but we’re familiar with plans not falling into place and things getting completely out of hand, although our job is to put out the fires as best we can.
Throw a fireball like COVID-19 into the mix and you’ve got something no public relations specialist has ever experienced, let alone the rest of the working world.
We’re living through a historical moment. One that will change us, hopefully for the better in every way possible, including how we go about our business.
Work-life as I knew it has disappeared. At first, it was disappointing to see plans I had worked on with clients go out the window for good or parked for some time, but I soon realised that this was something bigger than me and my work and that I’d do whatever possible to get through this time with the clients I had left in tow.
Not only am I first and foremost an adviser – the messenger between the businesses I serve and the media – I’ve also become a sounding board and a counsellor to assist my clients in navigating this brand-new version of a crisis unknown to us all.
PR is ever-changing, we’re brilliant adapters and can change our tact quickly and the survival of a brand will ultimately come down to its ability to adapt too, or, to use the buzzword pivot. FYI, pivot has apparently just overtaken ‘circle back’ as the number one corporate jargon saying, with a 1 billion per cent increase in the use of the word in March alone.
There are as many opportunities as there are challenges, so adapt and push forward
All businesses, no matter what they are, need to find solutions within the current constraints and PR beautifully matches this notion by forever embracing change, moving and adapting whenever there is a fork in the road. There are as many opportunities as there are challenges but be ready to react fast. We get updates about the pandemic on a daily basis, if brands are lagging behind their competitors and aren’t one of the first to adapt, it does nothing for customer confidence with the brand.
Understand how the media cycle works and how you can be relevant and topical
Using the current situation as a way to speak about the businesses I look after and how they’ve pivoted to still be operating in the current state of play is what I’m pitching every day to media. If you’re a PR pro, you understand the news cycle and you educate your client on this so they recognise when it’s appropriate to pitch a story in the given climate. Timing is everything and understanding the needs of media is vital to ensuring editorial pieces have every chance of coming into fruition.
Be honest with your audience, transparency is key
Always communicate brands in a genuine and meaningful way. Businesses should focus on what they are doing to help, how they are doing it, and where that provides a broader benefit to the community. Now is not the time to exploit the health crisis to promote a brand. It’s not “business as usual” but your audience still needs you and wants you to be there and therefore your PR strategy needs to be sensitive to the crisis that everyone is facing.
Use your social media for good – real good
Businesses, particularly when working with social media and technology, have shown resilience during COVID-19. Social media usage is at an all-time high since the pandemic started, this means that audiences are more present than ever before. Brands who decide to shift their social strategy to share specific COVID-19 related tips that will help their audience during this difficult period. Engaging with your people with a pinch or more of empathy is the way to go.
Think to the future and design a strategy for the long-haul
Now is the perfect time to change track to a long-term strategy in the quieter months while maintaining short-term, relevant content. Messaging revamps are always in order as is brand positioning and developing any brand assets to ensure steady streams on social media and websites. PRs will forever be adapting to a changing world and closely following how people gather their news bites and interact with digital media.
We’re a nimble and durable bunch willing to work with brands on what they can do in these uncertain times now and into the future. Something to be excited about is to know that the most iconic brands of the previous decade were launched during the surreal times of the 2008-2010 recession – Uber, Slack, Airbnb, WhatsApp and Pinterest. What’s in store for the ’20s? Well, PRs keep your ears to the ground!