communicating beyond crisis


Communicating Beyond Crisis

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

COVID-19 has completely upended the way we do business. Most of us are at home, toeing the increasingly blurry line between our work and personal lives. We’re simultaneously trying to maintain our current workflow while hypothesizing where the market will land in the next six to twelve months.

From a strategic communications perspective, preserving this delicate balance between the current situation and future environment is critical to maintaining both brand footprint and visibility. We need to determine how to operate while rampant noise threatens to overtake our position, while considering future opportunities, when looming budget cuts could mean the end of large-scale, integrated campaigns.

A recent study from PRWeek demonstrates this. The study, completed in mid-March, found that 90 percent of communications professionals say campaign budgets have been cut due to the impacts of the coronavirus. Forty percent of those professionals said their PR budget has been cut this year, again largely due to the impacts of the current national situation. Scary figures if you are responsible for brand building and engagement. Budget cuts of this magnitude mean difficult decisions impacting staffing, creatives, digital elevation, and stakeholder engagement – all essential to integrated campaign success. So, what’s a PR professional to do?

Resist the urge to full-stop every program, campaign, and product elevation planned for the remainder of the year. While challenging, budget cuts, even those of significant size, don’t necessarily have to mean all planned campaigns are a wash. Instead, such cuts demonstrate the need for greater creativity and more focused planning on the part of PR leaders to ensure continued brand success and visibility.

To achieve this, two major, immediate things need to happen:

Reassess your audience.

COVID-19 is going to change the way we communicate. Your communications strategy and associated tactics likely need to change. Metrics and goals established in 2020 planning have likely shifted as a result of this crisis. Instead of looking to meet established metrics, or worse, deciding now you cannot meet any metric previously established, consider the following:

  • Are these the right audience segments still?
  • Where are those audiences going to be in three months? Six months? One year?
  • What will their information consumption look like and how will they receive content?

While we don’t have a crystal ball to predict the future, careful, calculated assessment of your current audience situation, as well as audience mapping of any future audience base can help you navigate to where you need to be to maximize reach. Identify opportunities for streamlining your outreach to your audience and prioritize your audience based on impact.

Make your messaging more human.

Following weeks of social distancing, we can expect a move towards more interpersonal connectedness. But, the rapid uptick in remote work will lead to greater digital engagement. We crave human connection; we’ve tapped digital channels to create this connection. A new strategy is needed to reach, connect with, and capture an audience. Some points to consider:

  • Does your current message create a connection with your audience?
  • Would you feel connected to your brand if you were on the receiving end of your message?
  • Does your current communications strategy allow for authentic digital engagement?
  • Are you set up to utilize the necessary and appropriate platforms to reach your audience?

Take time to deep dive into your current messaging approach, then consider your channel strategy. Are you using the right channels to allow you to connect with your audience, or are you simply using what exists?

To be clear, this is no small feat. Such a dramatic shift in approach will not be an easy exercise, however there are a few simple ways to accomplish these:

Take a breath.

Think carefully about your brand, your message and your content. What is your ultimate goal? Force your team to drill down to your basic goal, then consider if your current messaging can reach this goal. Don’t force your process. It’s likely we’re going to be living with significant noise for a while – don’t force your brand to design your new approach in order to enter the noise, unless you can rise above it.

Consider your resources.

We’re likely entering an economic downturn. With such significant cuts, what resources are essential, and which ones can you still be effective without? Consider these in your planning. Be prepared for any team and resource changes so that you are the most successful when the noise dies down. Often, a strong, strategic partner and counselor with smart ideas is a better use of resources than an army of arms and legs to power through tasks.

Review current content.

Does your current content need to adjust to the national conversation? Closely review the content that you already have, remove anything that might be at odds with your future communications approach and think about how to retool past content that has taken on new relevance.

Make your plan.

Take some time establishing your plans for the next six months, one year, and 18 months. Understand plans may change; however, preparedness will ensure greater future growth potential.

COVID-19 has already altered the way we operate. Reduced resources are challenging our ability to communicate effectively.  We can anticipate a dramatic change in the way we communicate and how we market. Avoid a quick response just to enter the chaos – instead choose to effectively prepare your business to positively communicate in order to ensure future success.

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