Since the pandemic took hold here in the UK, our social feeds, online news pages, notifications and messages have been flooded with Covid-19 information and, whilst we are all seeking clarification and updates to enable us to move forward, it’s also vital that businesses keep on top of their own PR agenda.
Juggling both the essential crisis comms messages and your PR comms messages can work, and it can also have real benefits in terms of reputation management that highlight your business’s ability to both manage a crisis and continue operating; it just needs to be managed carefully and sensitively.
Keeping crisis communications consistent for clients
During the current crisis, Target has been supporting clients to communicate clearly and regularly. Effective communications to colleagues, customers, investors, partners and communities is key to maintaining stakeholder confidence. All stakeholders will rightly be concerned about the latest developments and will require accurate and authoritative information. After the flurry of operational communications as we entered lockdown, the frequency of updates slowed for many firms, and yet each new pulse of change merits an interaction of some form.
Our client Leeways Packaging Services Ltd, the manufacturer of thermoformed packaging, is a good example. Clear communications with their 135 staff were regular and proactive through the first phase of crisis, seeking to inform, explain, reassure and avoid the rumour and speculation that can so often fill a communication-vacuum. Messaging moved from the operational updates to the softer guidance geared towards the wellbeing of their colleagues, whether working remotely or in new shift patterns on site. Having created some helpful tips for the team, this was adapted and shared with external communities too, hoping others could make good use of their experience. And then came the all-important ‘thank you’ to their colleagues and suppliers, who rose so superbly to the challenge of meeting increased demand from panic buying and helping supermarkets keep food on the shelves.
Keep sharing the good news
British media can be a hotbed of doom and gloom. And yet, in a time of crisis, a positive story can be a shining light of much needed relief. It’s not an insensitive approach; it’s about recognising that there are some occasions when a story filled with joy and positivity can be ‘just the tonic’, and a real antidote to some of the more negative stories that fill our news feeds.
Clients still have stories to tell and we still have a duty – and drive – to seek appropriate media coverage where possible. This extraordinary time is also an opportunity for companies and organisations to show their humanity, ingenuity, and to tell their stories. We have found that there remains interest in our clients’ stories, despite the challenges of reaching home-working journalists, almost-empty newsrooms, and standing out among the deluge of press releases, which research suggests has increased by 30% since pre-lockdown levels.
While Specsavers closed their high street doors during lockdown, they remained ‘open for care’, continuing to provide essential and emergency eyecare particularly for key workers. It was vital that the public understood that their local optometrists were standing by ready to take their urgent calls or to get in touch online, so sharing stories through local newspapers, online and social media channels was paramount. We’ve been bowled over by the wonderful stories from the Specsavers stores we work with, and the appetite of media to help tell them.
In some cases, the communication challenges during lockdown have been ‘business critical’ for a major re-orientation of a company’s business model or new route to market. Here, the priority is to understand your audience and to build relationships with them so that they come along with you in a new direction. Social media channels can bring brands closer together with their customers, if care is taken to engage in ways that feel genuine and in tune with the mood of the moment.
When, in order to meet government regulations for lockdown, White Rose had to close its seven high street stores selling handpicked recycled fashion, the organisation quickly moved online launching an e-commerce site. An intensive period of social media communications followed and, in the past couple of months, they have experienced a steady growth in followers, reach and, crucially, directly attributable online sales. Our team has been creating beautiful content that captures the voice and persona of the brand, in a way that is building a like-minded community. And that community is shopping online, because they love the products, share the desire for sustainable fashion and feel good that their choices are helping to #fashionpeace through White Rose’s clear social purpose, funding the work of Aegis Trust . We’re delighted to add that the stores have all now re-opened and their growing community can once more interact (and shop) in person, as well as online.
It’s our job as PR professionals to support our clients to ensure that their key messages are not getting lost in a news agenda that remains dominated by Covid. If you’d like to chat about how we can support you, please drop me a line at Claire.McGill@targetgroup.co.uk