Even saying it seems like an oxymoron—it’s not exactly normal if it’s completely new. Truthfully, the new normal will be defined by the choices we make today and, most importantly, tomorrow.
While it’s been said many times, the present experience is rather unprecedented. We can certainly learn from recent mistakes, but what we choose to learn and how we choose to change will define the new normal.
But enough of the philosophy. If we focus on one specific topic—that of public relations and marketing—the question is how will these professionals be changing strategies, communications and audience perceptions?
One thing that has certainly continued throughout the COVID-19 pandemic is mass communication. As of April 16, there has already been more than 38 million pieces of news focused on COVID-19 and 163,000 in just the last day (that’s one day) across nearly 18,000 news outlets, with 44 percent of the news coming from the United States.
That’s a LOT of news. And, as you would expect, reactions from brands have varied from ultra conservative to very liberal.
Winners and losers
Before we get to the new normal, it’s important to discuss who some of the winners and losers have been throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. In general, the market and consumers are being forced to embrace a new way of life that includes virtual meetings, online fitness, food delivery services, and even telemedicine. At the same time, industries supporting travel, festivals or conference entertainment, airlines, and hotels have seen a tremendous decline in stockholder value.
Aside from general financial stability and economics, what’s even more important for public relations and marketing professionals is who are the winners and losers as it relates to communication impacts during the pandemic. Brands that have remained empathetic, relevant and considerate have fared better than their peers.
In an example, Virgin Airlines announced they were using aircraft to help ship healthcare supplies to providers in need. Meanwhile a competitor airline ran ads of their planes “social distancing”—and being 6 feet apart.
Needless to say, the latter fell on deaf ears and came across as insensitive as real people, family and friends were suffering with COVID. In a similar tone-deaf scenario, Corona beer (despite the unfortunate coincidence in their name), launched an advertisement for their seltzer beers with the slogan: “Coming ashore soon.”
Obviously with the given crisis and the continued spread of COVID, this advertisement while intended to be playful was ill-timed and came across as insensitive.
Creating the new normal
While brands struggle to stay relevant, considerate and compassionate during times of a pandemic, one can’t stop to question when we can get back to normal, i.e., the way things were. The unfortunate answer is—never.
We must start creating the new normal. As public relations and marketing professionals, we realize things have changed. With the media focused solely on the pandemic (and rightly so), many brands have shifted communications online.
Social media has seen an abundance of activity in online presence. The digital era can be a blessing or curse to brands depending on how they engage with their online audience during this pandemic.
As of mid-April, we are just now reaching the peak of the COVID pandemic in some cities across the U.S. In the throes of a pandemic brands must be cautious to post social media that is timely, relevant and considerate of the readers.
Promotional announcements and advertisements will not only disengage the readers but may turn them away from your brand in the future. As we move into later phases of the crisis and we see more recoveries and fewer active cases, brands can reengage on social media in a more promotional manner but will need to still consider the impact that COVID has had.
Digital marketing’s role
In addition, digital marketing is playing a significant role during the pandemic. Some brands have decided to invest heavily in digital marketing as that’s where most audiences are in today’s world.
Depending on the industry, some brands have seen a huge interest through this channel which is delivering content and ads at lower costs than during normal times. The key is in the message and communication. Knowing when, where and how to communicate is critical.
Getting to non-COVID topics
And lastly, what most brands really want to know is when can I talk about something NOT related to COVID? Unfortunately, the answer is likely—not for a while.
Does this mean you can’t connect to your audience or consumers? No. In fact, you should be connecting with your consumers and being there for future prospects. Now is the time to support current customers and deliver hope to future consumers.
Build the foundation now
We started this blog by talking about the “new normal.” Unfortunately, the best crisis communication plan could not have predicted nor planned appropriately for COVID-19.
However, an attuned, savvy team of public relations and marketing professionals can help you feel poised and ready to embrace whatever the future may hold. The communication efforts and media sources used by companies will forever be changed but the vision and mission of organizations remains the same and will only grow stronger.
Take this time to build a solid foundation upon which to blast your value propositions and mission once the world is ready to listen.
This article originally appeared on the Amendola Communications blog; reprinted with permission.