The PR profession and COVID-19: This crisis is an opportunity for communicators to show their value
April 7, 2020
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As the saying goes, every crisis is an opportunity in disguise. The COVID-19 pandemic is such a moment for our profession—weirdly put, this is a great time to be a communicator.
Not that I’m happy about the pandemic. No, not at all! Like many of you, I’ve been worried and have had some bad cabin fever. I’ve #wfh for 20 years as a solo PR practitioner and yet have found myself, for the first time ever, feeling, well, somewhat scared and eerily alone.
At the same time, we're all in this together, which makes the crisis communications work we're doing now so different. Normally when your client or organization faces a crisis, you’re dealing with situation specific to them. But none of us brought on this virus, so there’s nothing your client or company has done wrong and hence there’s nothing to explain, apologize for, etc. None of the normal dynamics apply, which means we can get right down to the business of communicating.
And that’s what we’re seeing right now: a lot of communication! We’re all living through a public health emergency and people of all walks of life are communicating a lot (and maybe even too much in some circumstances). Overall though, it’s a huge positive.
Here are some thoughts on how to keep adding value as a PR professional:
- Be supportive of leadership: Being a leader right now is tough, as they’re facing vast unknowns and this uncertainty makes decision-making extremely difficult. As PR counsel, we play a unique role of support, including being consiglieres, therapists or cheerleaders. Don’t underestimate how even a simple thing like an encouraging note can be a jolt of positive energy for someone who’s leading a team or an entire company.
- Know what’s top of mind for reporters: Reporters are all about COVID-19 right now despite some already publicly complaining of having everything tied to the virus. If you have legit, relevant material for the media related to the pandemic, pitch it since it’s the main focus and will be for some time. Many reporters are just as stressed as the next person, if not more so—show extra sensitivity to this audience.
- Keep coming up with non-coronavirus ideas—but save them. Perhaps you’re more creative when you’re working at home and the days are long. But if you’re contacting media with something other than virus-related items, you’re wasting your time. Save all this material for something later or look for COVID-19 angles.
- See where you can be the most helpful and be super flexible. With everyone scattered, the operations at your company or client may have shifted or gaps have opened because of layoffs. Flexibly slide up and down the ladder so you can contribute and pitch in however needed.
- Always be listening for the story. Like always, listen to what your leaders are saying and play your usual translator role for them. If you hear the CEO saying “We’re going to get through this crisis with X,” then this is the moment to activate your storytelling. You’ve worked hard to know the client or the organization, you know the players involved—now you can spring into action to put the pieces together to build off that “X” and help them tell the story. That’s how we add value, by putting the pieces together, translating, and then communicating to every important audience in the most effective ways.
The effects of the COVID-19 crisis will continue transforming our personal and professional lives, which, in turn, is going to create so many more storytelling opportunities. As the crisis unfolds, stay alert and maintain an eye on the long arc of this massive event. Keep applying the same communications principles, keep communicating without overdoing it and definitely keep supporting your leaders.
—Sarah Grolnic-McClurg, APR, has been a PRSA member since 1996. Founder of Pounce! PR, she’s a communications advisor and battle-tested media relations pro. Learn more about her work at www.pounce-pr.com and follow her on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/sarahgmc/.