May 27, 2020
Straight talk: in the mid-Rona times and what we hope to be the post-COVID world, businesses will need to morph and maximize competitive advantages in order to survive and thrive. We see evidence of these truths in how often we hear the P-word (yes, pivot!), in how many CEOs and executive directors are feverishly attending webinars, and in the many thought leadership articles relaying strategies that helped businesses successfully get through times of recession.
History, in many ways, repeats itself and who wouldn’t want to benefit from learning from others? One key lesson is that the companies best poised to forge forward often have a secret weapon by their side when times get tough – their public relations experts.
Who knew? The most successful companies worldwide, that’s who! These industry leaders have tapped into the power of PR since the early 1900s, when the first-ever press release was issued by Ivy Lee, who represented the Pennsylvania Railroad and used the tool to detail facts about a train derailing, rather than hide from the truth, as many companies want to do when there’s unfortunate news to share. The date The New York Times printed verbatim the information from that press release, October 30, 1906, has since become National Publicist Day, in celebration of the clever ways in which public relations strategists move beyond spin and into the advisor zone.
Imagine if the Pennsylvania Railroad did not have Lee to counsel them and instead tried to figure it out on their own, bury their heads in the sand, avoid commenting or otherwise tried to shift blame and deflect responsibility. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it, but that’s what many organizations do when they are pressed for time, under duress and don’t already have an advisor in place who understands their business, knows how to work with the media and is regularly monitoring the news and sentiments of the world.
Now, let’s get back to today and the COVID-19 crisis. PR is sitting in the critical seat Lee was in way back when, helping the savviest businesses walk through fallout from COVID-19 crises, whether it is coronavirus cases or deaths in a facility, measures to protect the public, reopening of businesses, or shifts in the economy and strategies to power through. That’s because PR practitioners are natural connectors, coordinators and observers of the world around us. Public relations professionals know how to expertly weave a brand’s position into the narrative in a way that resonates.
There’s data to back the importance of this role in today’s world. According to a recent survey, “The Future of the Role of the PR Pro” by Ragan Communications, the need for unity of purpose and messaging is growing and “solid storytelling will become ever more crucial.” The survey’s 315 respondents cited increased collaboration with CEOs and senior leaders, including those heading marketing, human resources, operations and finance functions, as a trend to watch. Half of respondents relayed spending more time with the C-suite leadership since the COVID-19 crisis began and nearly half, 48 percent to be precise, of respondents reported more inter-departmental collaboration.
Will these changes continue after the pandemic is in the past? Perhaps – and 59 percent of the survey’s respondents see the shifts made among PR pros and how they work with leadership as a mix of permanent and temporary, with only 11 percent believing the changes are for the short-term.
With a third of the Ragan Communications survey participants expecting normal PR activities won’t resume until the fall, I think it’s safe to say that we all should be thinking about the ways we can proactively communicate now. After all, the reopening of many businesses, which has already begun in some states and will soon be a reality in others, brings with it a plethora of challenges – and opportunities – unlike those we’ve ever seen.
Businesses that communicate well will have an advantage over competitors and reduce reputational risks, the pitfalls of which have the potential to outlast the health situation we’re in now. In fact, 77 percent of the Ragan Communications survey respondents said they see increased value for the PR role because of the pandemic.
I’d say they’re right. Public relations professionals have honed the skills to build trust and to reassure people inside and outside of organizations, whether staff members or customers visiting a place of business, that the places they have reopened are safe to occupy. A recent article in PR Daily detailed some of the specific risks smart businesses must consider and emphasized that proper messaging and preparation will help businesses and brands rise to the top.
So, C-suiters, let me whisper in your ear. As Louie Pasteur once said, “Chance favors the prepared mind, and opportunity favors the bold.” With the right advisors in place and ready to go, and the willingness to bravely forge forward, what’s ahead of us no longer looks so daunting.
About the Author: Filomena Fanelli is the CEO and founder of Impact PR & Communications, Ltd. (www.prwithimpact.com), an award-winning public relations agency based in NY’s Hudson Valley and serving clients throughout the tri-state area. Fanelli can be reached at 845.462.4979 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.