Communicating in a Pandemic: What We’ve Learned So Far

The world has been wading through uncharted waters for the past few months as the COVID-19 crisis introduces unfamiliar obstacles, unprecedented hardships, and new ways of staying connected and communicating. The PR and journalism industries have shifted to accommodate the news climate that COVID-19 has created, and with that, we’ve had to change the way we think about our most foundational practices, from media pitching and product launches to social media strategies.

In addition to drumming up ideas for communicating during this crisis with the Caster team, I recently tuned into a Cision webinar series, “Best Practices for Brand Communications in Times of Uncertainty,” to refine my crisis communication skills and learn how PR pros can best shift to accommodate clients’ and writers’ needs in the ever-changing landscape. As we continue to learn and adapt, here are some lessons for PR pros that can be leveraged to help us continue to work through the global pandemic crisis.

If you don’t have something relevant to pitch, don’t pitch anything at all

The news has become a tightly packed, loud, and often scary place as we face a global event unlike anything we’ve experienced. With high anxiety for consumers and businesses during this time, communicating in the COVID-19 crisis requires sensitivity and reason. Instead of trying to force-fit your story into a writer’s angle to make your voice heard, ask yourself, “should I be pitching this right now? Is the story relevant, sensitive, and newsworthy?” Monitor the news and look for suitable trends before you pitch and evaluate your message to make sure it’s not tone-deaf.

Amid the COVID-19 crisis, the editorial world is working overtime to keep readers informed. Reporters have switched beats to cover news about the virus, and many editorial calendars have been knocked off kilter. More importantly, the world’s attention has shifted to focus on wellness, safety, and uncertainty. As PR people, it’s essential to recognize the power of timing and tastefulness to avoid adding more hassle to the journalism world.

Slow down the social

While right now it might seem like the opportune time to get ahead on social media and pitching, the COVID-19 situation is changing daily, and the way it is perceived varies for different members of your audience. Instead of planning a full month of content to keep up with your normal cadence, it’s best to plan for one to three days to see how your message will fare. Assess the situation daily to make sure your key message is still relevant and tone appropriate.

  • Think of how the message will evolve and hit audiences long-term. If you’re not sure whether a message is appropriate for the time being, ask yourself the following questions:
  • Is there an immediate need for a social post or message?
  • Is this message relevant during the crisis?
  • Will my clients’ stakeholders benefit from this message?
  • If the answer to each question isn’t a “yes,” it might be best to pause. As PR pros, it’s our job to make sure brands are always well-represented, even if that means less communicating and more planning.

Check in on your people

When you get lost in the shuffle of crisis communications, it’s easy to overlook the “relations” part of public relations. While many companies are reasonably stressed about communicating their brand and maintaining their business it is more important than ever to think about customers and stakeholders’ needs. Identify how stakeholders are impacted and make sure your message and operations are helpful to them. PR is the first stage in the marketing funnel and creating and maintaining positive relationships during a crisis can truly help the brand come out stronger in the end.

Media relations in the age of COVID-19 has become more human-centric as well. Keep in mind that your media friendlies are facing their own set of challenges. A cluttered news cycle, canceled events, leave journalists in all types of work environments with different editorial needs. Instead of flinging a generic pitch into their inbox, check in with care and ask what the reporter wishes to cover and how you can help.

Finally, internal communications have never been more vital. Especially as work-from-home policies have shifted and businesses have re-positioned. A strong, organized team in a time of crisis stems from supportive leadership. At Caster, keeping communication open and regularly checking in on each other has kept our team going strong, even amid the major shifts in the world, and it has made all the difference.

Follow @lexie_gardiner and @castercomm on Twitter for industry updates and client news!

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