Let’s start by acknowledging that what we are collectively experiencing is disheartening and downright scary. Life during the COVID-19 pandemic feels surreal, and unlike anything we have faced in our lifetimes. The social and economic ripple effects will surely last for many months, even years, to come and that has many of us wondering, “what can we do NOW to help?”
You – whether you are working remotely, taking care of children or physically traveling to your workplace each day – have the opportunity to use your powers for good. How? Well, we have seen restaurants offering free bagged lunches for children in need, nurses and doctors putting themselves in harm’s way to care for patients, landlords temporarily freezing rent payments, children making cards for those confined to nursing homes, people checking on their elderly neighbors and the list goes on. These heartwarming acts of kindness have been keeping our spirits up and our team is committed to helping too.
As a public relations agency, we work to increase the visibility of a variety of clients by telling their stories, and by connecting with people’s minds and hearts in the process. While connection is something we are all craving right about now, we have to do it virtually, or at least from a distance. This means that it is especially crucial for businesses to be cognizant of their messaging during this sensitive time.
In the spirit of helping others with what we have and what we know, we have rounded up a list of tips for our business and not-for-profit friends to help with communications during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Re-visit and assess planned e-blasts, social media and blog posts for the coming months. Remove promotion for cancelled or to-be-rescheduled events, scan for posts or messaging that might seem insensitive in relation to the current news (ones that are too campy or sales-like come to mind) and ensure that your content is providing informative, helpful and comforting messages to followers. While many of our businesses have been impacted, there are steps you can take to stay connected with your community in a positive way online.
- Use discretion when pitching news to the media. Just as we advised curating e-blasts, social media and blog posts, we recommend reviewing your planned press releases, media alerts, calendar listings, etc. and deciding what can wait or be halted indefinitely. What news should you release? Right now, people are looking for information related to the pandemic. Is your business open, but with limited hours? Are you offering takeout and delivery services? Have you suspended fees for online resources that are normally expensive? While not all of these are worthy of a press release, there is merit in sharing via social media and via email at the very least. While the media’s attention is shifting daily, stay vigilant and understand that they are highly focused around COVID-19 coverage for the time being.
- Establish a plan for media inquiries that may be directed at your business or organization. Who are your designated spokespeople? Do they have talking points for best- and worst-case scenario situations? Imagine someone on your staff, or a client who has visited recently, contracts the virus. In case of emergency, having pre-prepared scripts and guides on responding to the media can help. If your spokesperson or spokespeople have been media trained, that is a bonus. If not, consider having them trained as soon as possible. It is important to feel prepared and confident, especially during the current crisis facing the world.
- Communicate clearly with your staff and offer resources. Businesses and not-for-profits alike are taking steps to maintain the safety and well-being of clients and employees during this pandemic. How many of you have received update emails from mailing lists you subscribe for over the last week? As a consumer, you are probably receiving pertinent information about the operational status and sanitary precautions of the businesses you regularly patronize. While external communication is crucial to inform your customer base and community partners, internal dialogue is critical as well. Connect with your team and tell them about decisions that will impact their work, offer resources and make sure they know who to contact on the leadership team or HR department if they have questions.
- Create a resource hub for clients and supporters. As we noted in the previous tip, external communication to clients and community partners is important. Be sure to create a sustainable communication plan to keep supporters in the loop via email, social media, blogs and your website. Some organizations are creating new webpages for people to visit to access COVID-19 updates and resources. Not a bad idea if you can swing it!
- Proactively communicate with partners. Most businesses and organizations work closely with community and media partners to grow their customer and donor bases, whether through co-sponsored events, ad-buys, etc. Be sure to update and communicate with those partners, especially if the COVID-19 pandemic will have adverse effects on pre-planned initiatives. For example, if you were slotted to sponsor or participate in an event later this year and can no longer move forward due to financial or other concerns, communicate with the event organizer as soon as possible to let them know that your circumstances have changed. With social and economic aspects of our lives and careers being affected by the pandemic, things are certain to shift and that is okay. Be honest and open and do not risk damaging a valued partnership.
During these trying times, stay strong, communicate well and know that we are all in this together. You can help others by sharing resources and knowledge, especially when you share in the right way, at the right time and on the right platform.
Sheila Bogan is a senior account executive at Impact PR & Communications (prwithimpact.com), a public relations firm based in the Hudson Valley serving clients in in the travel, hospitality, food and beverage, non-profit and lifestyle sectors.