With the pandemic looming large, many public relations managers have donned the hats of crisis managers for their companies. They have become a bridge between brands, consumers, and stakeholders. But why?
Because the PR industry is struggling. Their challenges are insurmountable—the top companies are facing hiring freezes (35 percent), canceled campaigns (62 percent), pay cuts (35 percent), and reduced retainers (35 percent).
Since the industry is badly shaken up, PR professionals are forced to innovate coping mechanisms, including revamping their corporate communications.
Negative customer sentiment and a volatile business ecosystem have become a breeding ground for rumors and false news, which is why transparent communication is a must in the new normal.
Kantar predicts that the way brands respond and communicate during this crisis period will impact their customer relationships once things return to “normal.”
Are there other benefits of effective communication in the PR industry? Yes. Let’s take a look at them.
1. Proactive crisis management
While the pandemic has taken a toll on corporate revenues, it has also turned PR companies into heroes. Brands are relying on PR people to clean their images and respond to crises.
Here’s an example to depict the point better:
Your client is having legal problems because an employee sued them for negligence in the workplace, which exposed him/her to the virus. To clear the air, you can write powerful press releases and control media attention. You can lend ongoing support to the victim and be forthcoming about it. This way, you can avert a potential disaster for your client.
Still, there are many PR professionals who are clueless about what their jobs entail in the changed scenario. It’s more than just handling angry customers and sweeping negative press under the rug.
Then what? In the new normal, effective PR includes:
- Shaping clients’ communication strategies. From which words to avoid in press releases to which audience groups to address first, you have to control all aspects of your clients’ corporate communications.
- Handling media attention. You might have to draft support materials on your clients’ behalf to answer questions presented by the media. Or, you might take over the entire press-handling part and become the face of the companies you represent.
- Delivering post-incident support. You might be required to clean up your client’s image by diverting media attention to their positive initiatives and CSR programs.
To restore your client’s brand reputation, you could try to build awareness about how their products/services help society. You can also formulate a fall-back plan if all your damage-control strategies fail.
2. Better brand reputation management
Corporations get a bad rap for being opaque and salesy. Effective communication and PR can give your brand a facelift. You can shake off the image of a big, bad corporation if your messaging is heartfelt and humane.
By showing that your clients care for their customers and employees, you can change public perception about your clients’ brands.
Is there a catch? Yes. You need to project a consistent brand image for your clients across all customer-facing channels. For example, if a company uses chatbots for lead generation, they need to reprogram the bots so that they communicate in a way that is true to brand standards. Failing to do that could result in confused public perception and a watered-down brand image.
Let’s say a website gets mostly millennial visitors. If the onsite bot communicates to them in a formal, cut-and-dry tone, they may be put off and turn to a competitor brand. Worse still, they might decide to rant about it on social media, which can be disastrous for any net-savvy brand.
3. Positive customer and client morale
Consumer morale has nosedived since the pandemic set in. Physical distancing has led to social media nearing, and you just can’t escape the Covid-driven content floating around on social media platforms. Such communication erodes consumer trust and morale.
To cut through that noise, your PR company can create a positive communication strategy. This way, you can attract more clients and multiply your revenue. When you replicate the strategy for your clients, their revenue expands, which sets off a vicious cycle.
Through positive communication, your clients foster customer trust and earn digital loyalty. If all PR companies adopt the same approach, the entire business ecosystem can improve.
4. Increased corporate social responsibility (CSR)
According to the Kantar study cited earlier, consumers expect brands to act ethically and look beyond financial gains during these testing times.
If your communication strategy is anchored around CSR, you can become a “trusted brand” for your audience—the brand they turn to when normalcy is restored. Allowing work from home (WFH), reducing carbon footprint, and promoting energy efficiency are some ways to show your CSR.
To put your humane face forward, you can collaborate with socially conscious influencers on social media. Piggybacking on their goodwill, you can project yourself as an ethical brand. Since influencers’ followers trust their word, you can earn their approval and love by association.
The key to making this tactic work lies in selecting the right influencers. You need to pick influencers with a similar niche, target audience, and values as your brand. If you don’t want to devote hours to influencer research, you can use a platform like trendHERO that can match brands with influencers in a jiffy.
Once you have the right influencers on board, leverage their power of storytelling to reach people with your purpose-driven narrative.
Let’s say you’ve built a LEED-compliant building or a recycling program. An environmentally conscious influencer can spread the word about it and grow your brand equity. Likewise, local parent influencers can be a great mouthpiece for a modest book donation campaign.
A word of caution here.
Since the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) cracked down on influencer fraud, it’s essential for influencers to disclose that they are being paid to campaign for brands. To stay on the right side of the law, I recommend you hire an influencer agency to help you with campaign management. This way, you can focus on the creative angle of your CSR campaigns while the agency handles tricky legal details.
As experts adept at creating and maintaining public personas, PR professionals are usually called upon when disaster strikes. And, the current pandemic is nothing short of a global disaster.
Traditional PR is by no means sufficient to handle the evolving needs of businesses. But by adopting a more purpose-driven communication strategy, you can help clients stay afloat in these tumultuous times and return to “business as usual.”