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PR/Communications During the COVID-19 Emergency

April 14, 2020

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There have been countless articles written over the past few weeks regarding public relations and communications during the COVID-19 emergency. We have focused here on a few we feel provide timely, important considerations, are fairly quick-and-easy to read, and best reflect some of our own advice as well.

In helping our clients manage an emerging issue or deal with a potential crisis, we always recommend they respond quickly, honestly, and consistently. This includes releasing only the facts, and never speculating or placing blame. 

We tell our clients, “When you don’t know something, say so. If you can’t comment on something, explain the reasons why not.” 

Harry Kraemer, former chairman and CEO of the $12 billion global health care company Baxter International, shared similar thoughts in an article titled, Two Principles for Leading Your Organization Through the COVID-19 Crisis.

Over the years, Kraemer has provided leadership through crises large and small, including a tragic crisis involving faulty medical equipment and patient deaths.

In his view, there are two main things leaders need to understand in a crisis—two mantras, if you will, that offer a calm way forward, no matter what the situation.

  • Mantra 1 – You’re going to do the right thing, and you’re going to do the best you can do.
  • Mantra 2 – You’re going to tell people what you know, what you don’t know, and when you’ll get back to them to discuss what you didn’t know before.

Both of these tips are also applicable to internal communications. Putting employees first should be a top priority for any company, especially during a crisis.

Agility PR Solutions outlined some simple tips for communicating with employees, including:

  • Stay updated and educated
  • Communicate frequently and clearly
  • Keep the lines of communication open
  • Stay cool, calm, and collected
  • Refer to an expert

In speaking with our clients and several PR colleagues, we have also found it is important to not bombard or overwhelm employees with more information than they need or can currently process. Also, try to avoid sharing information with all employees that would be better focused on a specific team or workgroup.

During a crisis, be sure to tailor your PR strategy to meet the moment. Industry pub PR Daily published an article by Lisette Parras, founder and president of Gravitate PR, titled, “How to adapt your PR strategy for the COVID- 19 outbreak.”

Parras addresses the challenge of developing marketing and PR plans in the midst of 24-7 coverage of the coronavirus. Here are some top takeaways:

  • Think critically about how and when to tell your story. Evaluate whether it’s even the right time to be telling your story.
  • Understand resources are strained. All newsrooms continue to be pushed to their limit. Consider whether perhaps your story is a better fit for industry outlets.
  • Focus on fundamentals. Take this time to create thoughtful content for social media and other communications platforms.

There have also been many stories about reporters being flooded with out-of-touch, hand-to-forehead media pitches. With that in mind, it’s important to consider whether your organization has some insight for how businesses in your industry can navigate the unprecedented economic challenges we’re facing. Or how you can provide a new, impactful angle on the impact of the COVID-19 crisis.

The Martin Group has been working closely with the Child Advocacy Center at BestSelf Behavioral Health in Buffalo to raise awareness on how children isolated at home may be at increased risk for abuse and neglect. This important issue generated extensive media interest in late March, early April, 2020.

And finally, in helping our clients prepare for media interviews, we coach them on how to anticipate and answer difficult questions, and also provide them with tips for appearing on camera.

As we transition the majority of these media interviews to Zoom, Teams, Skype, FaceTime, or a similar video chat platform for the foreseeable future, we found an article by Ken Scudder titled “Tips for Professional Video Chat Interviews and Meetings” to be very useful.

Ken, a communications trainer and consultant, offers some tips on how to ace those interviews. These also apply to online conferences and presentations as well. Some tips  to prepare for a virtual interview include:

  • Make sure your home network can handle a video call
  • Be conscious of, and adjust, the background and camera angle as needed
  • Check sound and lighting
  • Dress as you would for an on-camera interview
  • Test your equipment and practice before the interview

When ready for an interview:

  • Have your notes in front of you on your screen
  • Maintain good eye contact; look at the camera, not yourself

Looking for any insights on how to handle your own COVID-19 response plan? I'm happy to help.

Looking for any insights on how to handle your own COVID-19 response plan? I'm happy to help.

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