Wise PR Counsel Critical During a Pandemic
It’s not enough to be good or first or even right these days. I often find myself telling people that when you are right, sometimes that’s all you are. In today’s crazy world of mostly biased media coverage, a pandemic, social media and viral messaging, it is important to have a wise, experienced PR professional on your team. Whether you are the Girl Scouts deleting a congratulatory tweet or a fraternity doing the same, wise advice can keep you out of hot water on social media and the press. In today’s world, our culture demands instant responses and instant information resulting often in the rush to be first, not necessarily accurate. This can be a slippery slope when managing client expectations, especially if there is pressure to release information fast which is now more commonplace. My advice would be to be sure because once you “delete that tweet” or “take something down,” you open yourself up to even more scrutiny. In our “High Gear” book series, my co-author and I speak about one’s “digital footprint” and how social media is putting everyone’s information out online for the world to see—forever.
The pandemic hasn’t helped either. All of the chaos surrounding the virus and what we should be doing or not doing has created fear and uncertainty while simultaneously forcing us all to rely more on technology rather than less. We are all on our computers zooming or working and so we “see” the news all day long. Whether its from Facebook, Twitter or whatever news channels we follow, it’s there. People are typing and talking all day long and it is truly overwhelming. If you think doing PR and crisis communication was hard five years ago, it’s way more difficult now. I have watched so many things happen to brands (and people) online that I shake my head and hear myself muttering, “they need some good PR strategy” almost daily. You don’t have to look too far or think too long on some obvious examples that I won’t spotlight here—there are too many!
So here is my advice to help you think about how to handle crisis communications during the pandemic or any other unprecedented time in history.
- Decisions need to be based on strategy, culture and the value of the brand: they should not be made lightly and they should be made for the long term.
- Communication is not always required: We hear so much about “transparency” that sometimes we forget that not everything must be communicated.
- The message you send should never be one that can be hijacked or misunderstood. Clarity and definition is very important.
- Work with reporters and press members who you know are fair and will do a good job: I often pick a reporter based on the complexity of the message.
- Good news is much needed during a pandemic: If you have it, share it! Let your light shine in the darkness!
- Timing is everything: Can you wait until things calm down to run that ad? Is the message insensitive or ignorant of what is happening?
- Honest responses are more important now than ever: You cannot hide so you need to be truthful and honest in communicating.
- Retractions/Corrections/Deletions look like you are pandering and caving to special interests. Avoid messages could generate controversy.
- Know that you cannot please everyone all the time. I think Chic-Fil-A is a great example of a brand who knows who they are and stand by it.
- Be sensitive to the fact that stress creates tension and most people have issues they deal with. Be kind and be helpful where you can.
I hope you enjoyed reading this and that you are staying safe and well as we close out 2020. What a year we have had! If we can make it through this year, being more creative, productive and re-energizing our brands and business, we will be stronger and better for it!