While it might seem counterintuitive, the global coronavirus pandemic has been a good period of time for my firm’s PR business.
We’ve signed a few new clients, and we’re laser-focused on working with firms that have relevant B2B and B2C offerings that address needs associated with the pandemic, like telecommuting and telehealth solutions.
This is not to boast by any means, but it makes the point that many companies – including mine – can and will make it.
The reason we’re surviving is because savvy marketers know that one of the best times to be proactive and “lean in” is during a downturn.
While many companies rush to slash PR, marketing and advertising budgets in turbulent times, the leaders of tomorrow are making strategic investments today, in advance of what will be an inevitable recovery, no matter what shape it takes.
By focusing on business fundamentals and pivoting towards strategies that address the issue at hand – in this case, the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on our clients and their customers – companies can emerge from the crisis more than intact. The can emerge stronger.
For starters, focusing on business fundamentals and execution is key.
By now, most companies have adapted to remote work and have achieved some semblance of normalcy in operations. Working virtually has gone mainstream, and there is little chance that the trend will be reversed.
In fact, a recent Gartner survey states that 74% of chief financial officers “will move at least 5% of their previously on-site workforce to permanently remote positions post-COVID 19.”
Given that client and customer work can move forward with minimal disruption, the next step is for companies to focus on strategic issues.
In the case of PR firms like mine, that meant developing an action plan around the impact of the pandemic for each client, taking into account issues like staffing and team availability, crisis response messaging and, most importantly, how to proactively message to our clients’ customers, prospects and partners.
My company’s position as an early adopter of a virtual workplace has enabled us to provide uninterrupted client service, and many of the C-suite executives with whom we work are embracing appropriate PR and brand-building steps with little delay.
In times like these, after having put a baseline crisis plan in place, companies can position themselves as solution providers and focus on marketing messages and campaigns that resonate in times of crisis and upheaval.
Looking back at the recession of 2007-2009, brands that succeeded after the fact were those that offered solutions and perspective.
Brands and PR can and should use this period to strengthen relationships, project stability and, very importantly, empathize with customers.
People are uncertain, nearly everyone is on edge, and the coronavirus remains an invisible enemy that may take years to conquer. That’s why stronger customer relationships, driven by thoughtful and relevant messaging, will win in the end.
PR and marketing can help with brand-building during upheavals or recession by showing concern and backing that concern up without coming across as opportunistic.
Relevant examples include the auto companies’ payment deferral plans, as well as discounted or free services that many companies are offering, including internet providers which are providing no-cost internet access to families of school-age children.
Now is the time to supplement or replace traditional sales-driven messaging with messages that express genuine concern and hold human values high.
With appropriately-tuned messaging, companies can still be proactive and drive earned media coverage during the coronavirus era.
Firms can use this time to adopt timely and flexible PR strategies and pitches, particularly approaches that showcase their ingenuity and flexibility in the face of this crisis.
And because marketing and sales efforts can tap into the cultural zeitgeist and remain appropriate and tasteful, a significant opportunity still exists to attract top-of-the-funnel leads, nurture those leads that are in progress, and even to close deals.
The good news for C-suite executives is that PR, along with social media and content marketing, are among the most cost-efficient and measurable ways for brands to gain visibility and articulate their value.
Experienced CEOs and CMOs know that firms cannot stop marketing in times of crisis, and the most influential companies of tomorrow will use this time to share their stories, including thought leadership perspectives.
PR represents a meaningful way to “do more with less” during the coming months and years, a period which is being described as “contraction, a partial bounceback,” followed by a “long slog.”
But that slog can be shorter and less painful if companies truly lean in when it comes to PR and outbound communications. Doing so will empower them to emerge from the other side of today’s crisis as more powerful, valuable and influential brands.
Curtis Sparrer is the principal of Bospar PR. He has led PR campaigns for start-ups and big names including 1010data, Apigee, Ebates, FusionOps, PC Tools, On24, PayPal, SOASTA, Tetris and even the alien-hunting SETI Institute. Curtis was names as one of Business Insider’s “50 Best Public Relations People In The Tech Industry.
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