The COVID-19 pandemic caught us all off guard, forcing the world’s population to stay indoors for months now. Businesses and organizations have had to make quick adjustments to stay afloat. Companies were not able to anticipate the impact of the pandemic and prepare accordingly, and most are serving their clients and supporting their employees even when not in full capacity and while helping flatten the curve.
As many offices remain closed and normal business operations halted, budgets are running low and priorities need realignment. Sustaining pre-COVID-19 efforts, including PR plans, in such a scenario has been a key concern.
More businesses, in particular smaller ones, are implementing cost-cutting mechanisms, and PR activities are usually one of the first to be crossed out as they are generally seen as an expense item. Outside of the cost issues, social distancing protocols are rewriting the rules on gatherings and related PR activities, prompting many brands to cancel plans or look for alternative options.
For some businesses and organizations, the challenge lies in their target audiences’ attention shifting to more relevant stories about the current situation than product offerings or business development.
The fact remains, however, that despite the cost, implementation and audience focus obstacles brands face, they must continue to communicate with their audiences. It is, in fact, during a crisis that communication is more necessary and can even have a long-term impact on the reputation of a brand or organization.
Brands play an important role in shaping public sentiment: An uplifting message from a brand or a positive story about its efforts to help the community can go a long way in making people feel that they are not alone during a pandemic. At a time when people are anxious about the future, brands that respond empathetically will be remembered and those that act thoughtlessly risk making their audiences think that they don’t care.
Communication efforts among businesses and organizations can revolve around ongoing initiatives to prevent the further spread of the virus, even if these are just about simple announcements about implementing work from home for their employees or changes in business hours. Updating the brand’s stakeholders – both internal and external – on company developments will reflect the organization’s commitment to them, the business and the rest of the community.
Companies’ efforts in helping the community or in addressing the health situation are also good anchor communication points. Indeed, many brands and organizations have been sharing stories about how they are supporting frontliners, donating equipment, and generally working with the public to make quarantine life more bearable while at the same contribute to curbing the spread of the virus. Businesses and organizations can look into how they can continue to be helpful to their audiences. This must, of course, be done out of good will and real desire to help and not just to gain media mileage.
Meanwhile, communication strategies deemed effective prepandemic may not have the same impact now and after this global scare is over. But this does not mean that brands have to completely drop whatever strategy they had; they just might need to modify the approach or align it better with the times and circumstances.
Now may not be a good time for aggressive product-centric stories, but it won’t be all bad to update followers on company, product or service developments, especially if the public has been expecting something for some time. Brands can ask themselves what they think their audiences would want to know about them during this pandemic, what developments regarding the brand they should share with their publics, how the brand is helping prepare its target market for post-COVID-19 scenarios. In all these, the important thing is to always be sensitive and take stock of the situation or issue before acting or saying something.
Some companies are using the online platform not just to communicate or share their stories. Several have started going ahead with brand activities via digital. A number of product launches have been done via livestream. More organizations are pushing through with their events using Zoom or other similar applications. These are just some of the new approaches organizations can tap given that restrictions on physical distancing are still in place.
No matter the circumstances, it’s important that brands continue to communicate with their audiences. Doing so builds trust or, better yet, strengthens the trust that has been established thus far.
With COVID-19 cases in the country still on the rise and a vaccine still unavailable, when things will return to normal remains a big question. Businesses and organizations will have to adjust to the “new normal” and figure out the next best step for them. How will this “new normal” change the way they communicate with their audiences? What platforms will be most effective to reach out to audiences during this time?
This may be a good time for businesses and organizations to reexamine what they want their brands to be known for – not just for what they can offer but also for what they can do about current issues. Modern audiences appreciate brands that are human, brands that are motivated by purpose beyond the bottomline.
Even post-COVID-19, circumstances will always be changing along with developments in the economy and political situation, and it will be up to businesses and organizations to respond in the manner most effective for them and their audiences.