The COVID-19 pandemic has already had an unprecedented impact on the health and economy of the nation but has also seen the face of PR and communications change at an extraordinary pace. Campaigns being planned just a few weeks ago no longer fit the ‘new normal’ and it is imperative for PR to be agile, responsive and creative, in order to ensure both short- and long-term success for the brands they work with.

How should brands adapt to the Covid-19 crisis?

In the current climate, businesses need to consider how they can help, rather than just sell. Brands must be empathetic to the present situation, willing to be flexible and evolve, and messaging must be credible, accurate and trustworthy. This applies when talking both externally to consumers and internally to employees. Being open and transparent about how the situation is affecting the company, how it will affect those outside it, and what you are doing to help is important.

What do PRs need to do?

As PRs, it is important for us to think about how we can create content that is useful to journalists and relevant to consumers. We must give brands a voice when it’s needed but advise them to stay silent when appropriate too. For example, from our conversations we know that although journalists are inevitably covering the pandemic, they are also looking to offer readers light relief and positive stories amongst the negativity. We know that some titles are still filling regular slots, but that others are working to a totally new format, or merging issues, as well as working to shorter and tighter deadlines. And as PRs we need to ensure the PR activity we recommend fits into this new landscape, and collaborate with other areas of the business to ensure consistency of message across paid, owned and earned.

It’s also important for us all to be mindful of each other at the present time and to work together. So, as well as providing journalists with quality content, we need to remember in our conversations with them that everyone is experiencing similar technical, emotional and potentially financial difficulties, as well as potentially working in a smaller team if some colleagues have been furloughed.

Have people changed the way they consume media in 2020?

The way we consume media and news in this new landscape is changing too. We are leaving the house less often to visit the shops and purchase print publications, meaning many of us are consuming our news and content via the TV, radio or online.  We are buying much less print media and advertising is being cut, we are seeing publications furloughing staff, some titles being put on hold until July or even later, and trust for newspapers and journalists decreasing at the same time[1]  – so whether trade or consumer, it’s likely that the media landscape will never look the same again. But again, no one can predict with certainty what the lasting changes will be.

Does social media have a role to play?

In light of the changes it is worth considering the best way to communicate a brand’s message. PRs need to review what is the best way to reach a brand’s audience – and it may be for example that instead of the more traditional approach, an IG live is more likely to reach a brand’s audience, engage them and really add value to their day to day life. Coca Cola for example have already decreased their marketing spend in most areas, apart from digital which has been increased.[2] 

Are influencers currently the best route to consumers?

It’s also important to consider the changing role of the influencer. While influencers do continue to be a source of positivity and inspiration for many people during this time, a common theme which has been reported by the ‘blogosphere’ over the last couple of weeks is that some micro-influencers are seeing their engagement levels drop, while the ‘big gun’ influencers continue to thrive. The drop in engagement could be a result of a number of things – including people choosing ‘virtual socialising’ over Instagram scrolling, having less time due to home schooling or simply limiting the amount of time they’re allowing themselves on social media each day.  Others though report they have actually seen an increase in stats on posts with #ad, but they've been forced to be more creative when making content at home.[3] 

However, mainstream media are helping fuel big name influencers, such as Joe Wicks, by promoting them as household names that people can trust. This then leads to people seeking our further content from them via social media, which in turn produces a higher level of engagement. While there is still place for the smaller, perhaps more relatable, influencer, it’s clear that these current times have led to a surge in competition for ‘grid space’ and that some influencers will struggle to gain traction on their content at this time.

So what does the future look like...

As we all try to work out what the weeks and months have ahead of us, one thing is clear - how brands act in this period will have a lasting impact. As PR week recently reported, in a poll of 12,000 people by Edelman across the world’s leading economies, nearly two-thirds agreed that how brands respond to the pandemic will have a ‘huge impact’ on their likelihood to buy those brands' products. Indeed, one in three had already stopped using a brand they believed was not acting appropriately in response to the public health crisis[4]

As PRs it is our role to hold brands’ hands through this crisis and ensure they emerge at the other end with their reputation and audience base not only intact but strengthened.

[1] https://news.sky.com/story/coronavirus-britons-still-support-lockdown-despite-being-sadder-and-more-anxious-poll-11977655

[2] https://www.marketingweek.com/coca-cola-pauses-marketing-spend-over-lack-of-roi/

[3] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-52362462

[4] https://www.prweek.com/article/1678984/open-letter-prweek-uk-editor-not-time-cut-pr-budgets

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