Posted on: November 24, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a trying time for employers and employees alike. Our hearts go out to all of those who have been impacted by the coronavirus, both from a public-health perspective and financially speaking.
What the pandemic has done is forced us all to become resilient and change with the times. All business has changed in recent months, so it only makes sense that communications and marketing change too. The best place to start is by showing empathy. Communications and marketing materials need to convey that you care about your workers, clients, customers, and everyone in your professional orbit.
Remember: People are feeling a great deal of anxiety these days, not only because of the coronavirus’ persistent spread and a recent rise in cases, but also due to the economic toll of government lockdowns. The most adaptive businesses can fill a need in the marketplace by understanding and sympathizing with that anxiety. That’s the first step. The second step is to portray yourself as the “white knight,” addressing that anxiety and assuaging it through empathetic communications and marketing.
This cannot be lip service; people can see through hot air, so that empathy needs to feel real. And the talk feels real when it’s backed up by the walk. Businesses should not set themselves up to be blamed for a coronavirus outbreak, so we cannot require or mandate that people gather in an office when public health is at stake.
Is the current situation ideal? Of course not—it’s not ideal for any of us. But we need to take every single precaution to mitigate the spread of a novel virus, and this now includes shutting down office spaces, promoting mask-wearing, socially distancing, and so forth. Whatever public health officials recommend, business leaders need to implement. That shows empathy and prudence, which makes people feel less anxious.
PR is totally different now. Crisis communications is the status quo. Businesses that do experience an outbreak need a crisis communications in place, facilitating an ongoing dialogue with the people and families involved, in addition to the government, media, and broader public. Of course, crisis communications need to be put in place before an outbreak occurs. Map out the potential talking points, and preemptively brainstorm questions that may arise. Answer those questions intelligently, but also in a heartfelt manner.
Crisis communication is not the only form of dialogue. To promote their COVID-19 policies and procedures, businesses must update physical signage, social media talking points, and other forms of communication to show that they are being as adaptive as possible. Compliance is the name of the game.
To show how you’re taking action, you may need professional help: With the “new normal,” PR experts have now become accustomed to dealing with the coronavirus, so they can help craft the messages to get businesses through the public-health crisis. Planning ahead is vital. A well-thought-out communications strategy, executed by PR professionals, is necessary during a global pandemic.
We are in the middle of a crisis, but life must also go on. Business doesn’t just stop. Marketing matters too. Without coming across as tone-deaf, businesses can and should promote their products and services, just noting that those products and services will be offered in accordance with public-health guidelines. Again, this is where PR experts can help: Promotion without being tone-deaf can be a difficult balance to strike, but PR professionals are trained to craft messages that make consumers feel less anxious, and not like businesses are exploiting a tragedy.
Look at it this way: As business leaders, we have to assume that everyone is dealing with stressful situations in their daily lives—because we all are. Whether it’s an aging parent at risk, children who cannot go to school, or even the loss of income due to business closure, Americans are really struggling. Businesses need to acknowledge that struggle. We cannot pretend like we’re back to normal—because we’re not. Without that assumption of struggle, businesses won’t be able to convey empathy.
It’s also worth considering that businesses can convey empathy more than once. When you reach out to clients and customers—or even your own employees—the end goal should not always be to market yourself. You can break up the usual promotion with “get well” or “hang in there” messages, just to show that you’re thinking of others. Perhaps, you can even take a break from marketing for a day, weaving in words of compassion and inspiration to get people’s minds off the daily struggle.
Let’s say you’re active on social media. What if you post something promotional on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, but leave Tuesdays and Thursdays for more empathic posts? An every-other-day marketing strategy can get you in the habit of “showing you care” on a regular basis. Eventually, people will realize that you don’t just care about the bottom line during a global pandemic; they will know that you care about your community.
Yes, the bottom line still matters, but there are more important things in today’s world. If businesses point that out, it’ll be easier for all us to get through the COVID-19 pandemic and come out stronger on the other side. Plus, it will be good for business too.