Pandemic PR So Far: Tips from the Trenches

The pandemic has invoked rapid changes to almost everything we do. As PR pros, we’ve responded just as quickly as major trade shows shifted online for the first time, editors and writers flip-flopped around to adjust to the virus-distorted news cycle, and brands were faced with all types of uncertainty.

Just over two months ago, I wrote a blog about what we’ve learned about communicating during the pandemic while the Caster Crew was working remotely as COVID-19 cases were peaking around 400 new cases per day in Rhode Island. Now, we’re in a much different position than we were since that last piece posted, with growing PR initiatives, working in-office, and launches for virtual CEDIA Expo and other events on the way. I decided to recruit some fresh wisdom from the Caster Crew about the PR lessons we’ve throughout the pandemic.

Laura Shubel, senior account executive, responded immediately to my call, flattering the innate ability of PR pros to “do what we always do: change and adapt.”

“When a tragedy occurs, PR pros are quick to respond. Our reflex is often to initiate a slowdown on social media, pause pitching, or shift a news schedule…because [the crisis] raged on for weeks, pauses and slowdowns couldn’t last. We shifted to what PR pros do best, find new story lines and adapt, which included a new emphasis on virtual events.

Laura also stressed that we’ll likely see a lasting wave of virtual communication and collaboration, even after COVID-19 fades in the future:

“Virtual events have become an opportunity, opening more ways for collaboration and connectivity with communities without the boundaries of scheduling and traveling. And they’re here to stay: PR pros are strategizing virtual events, coaching on digital presentations, and seeking new ways to reach audiences.”

Sisters think alike: Meredith Shubel, senior account coordinator, also chimed in on the shift to virtual, both from a professional and personal standpoint, when asked for her biggest takeaway from working through the crisis:

“Most of us are feeling the pressure from the cancellation of trade shows—not only have our long-term plans for these events been unexpectedly terminated, but we’ve also had to quickly pivot to work on new virtual events that still deliver high value to our clients and the industry. Transitioning between in-office work to all-remote and back again has also added strain on the already-hectic day of a PR pro.

“So, what’s the most valuable takeaway? Anything can happen. Anytime, anywhere. You can’t truly ever be fully prepared; the best you can do is practice being flexible.”

While the focus shifted away from virtual in other Caster team members’ feedback, flexibility continued to be the common theme across in my conversations with the team. Pete Girard, account supervisor, gave the term a broader meaning, encompassing both work and personal well-being:

“The ability to shift focus and attention to new initiatives, messaging points, and projects has been paramount through this entire process. One of the things I love about PR is that each day is different and brings new challenges. This has been significantly magnified the past couple months…and I do not just mean from a business perspective but a personal standpoint as well.

“Flexibility in terms of working from home and which hours you’re online, making sure you and colleagues are taking breaks during the day to get up and take a short walk, or even covering a call for someone who unexpectedly needs to take care of a family member or child have all been critical. I think the past couple months has injected a dose of the personal-side of doing business and made us all more aware of the lives we have outside of our offices and beyond our desks.”

Our office manager, Kyra, also spoke of the taxing reality of living through the pandemic and echoed the importance of well-being: she suggested taking things one step at a time.

“I think it has been important to keep moving and staying productive even when it feels like everything is pointless…like those low points during the pandemic where most of us experienced feelings of ‘why does any of this matter if everything is falling apart?’

“But the fact was that things were either going to continue to get worse, or they would get better, and I think it was important to prepare for both. Our entire team did an outstanding job with that, and I think it’s the reason we have continued to be reliable partners to our clients and vendors as they have gone through all of their own pandemic experiences.”

Regardless of the weight of uncertainty, PR pros have a responsibility to remain meticulous, with actions rooted in strategy, purpose, and taste. Payton St. Lawrence, account coordinator, shared:

“Doing PR during a pandemic made me realize how important it is to be mindful of the world going on around you. With every move PR pros make, it’s important to step back and make sure we’re being sensitive to what’s going on as news unfolds.”

The whole Caster Crew agrees that the past six months have been a roller coaster. Nevertheless, one thing remains consistent across our team. Laura summed it up best, and we’ll continue to prove it through 2020 and beyond:

“PR pros who are creative and adapt will succeed, whether or not in the wake of the pandemic.”

Follow me at @lexie_gardiner and @CasterComm for client news, updates, and PR industry trends!

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