22nd May 2020
Tom Jenkin

Comms during Covid: How PRs can provide strategic value

'This is a real chance for comms to prove its worth internally'

During a global crisis – be it a pandemic, like coronavirus, or a financial crash – key business objectives need to adapt, and in turn, so do communications strategies.

Amid the uncertainty of lockdown, PR & Comms teams have an opportunity to enhance their strategic position within the organisation and demonstrate value beyond a team that publishes releases.

In order to do that, they should be one step ahead of their competitors and the industry at all times, and fully aware of their audience’s situation. While the temptation may be to show it’s business as usual, there is a fine line between demonstrating value and seeming opportunistic.

Positioning PR as a font of knowledge

Insights provided by a comprehensive media intelligence product shouldn’t be limited to the comms team. PR can provide strategic value to other departments by providing integral market intelligence that could be crucial during a crisis. What could HR benefit from knowing about furloughs across the industry? How might issues affecting suppliers hinder your business’ ability to operate?

Establishing dedicated searches for different departments can boost PR’s reputation as a font of knowledge within the organisation. And at a time when every expense is being questioned and targets scrutinised, providing business-critical information can open up new opportunities for the business and transform decision making.

Remove distractions in a crowded space

The news agenda during a global crisis is a busy place. While the media focuses on covering the crisis and its effect on society and the economy, companies battle it out to be heard. When analysing the landscape, it becomes even harder to monitor the communications of your competitors and comparators.

A graph showing mentions of 'coronavirus' in the media from February 1st to March 27th. Mentions increase from less than 500,000 to 5.5million
Mentions of ‘coronavirus’ from February 1st to May 22nd

With a reliable media intelligence partner, monitoring updates from specific sources can alert you to hidden announcements and new opportunities. Companies may be inclined to bury a bad piece of news during a crisis and equally may not be able to publicise an otherwise important announcement.

Similarly, competitors may be launching partnerships or pivoting as their business objectives adapt. Being cognisant of these updates can inspire or shape your own organisation’s decision making.

Scanning your horizon shouldn’t solely focus on competitors. A full understanding of your clients’ situation – provided by a feed dedicated to monitoring their output and coverage – can shape your thinking and align you with your customers.

Arielle Lapiano, Director of Communications and Public Relations at Paul Hastings: “We’ve never had a crisis where tone has been so important.”

For your consumers – and society – it simply isn’t business as usual. There’ll be less of an appetite for services they don’t need during a crisis. Appealing for their custom or celebrating an achievement may cause an organisation to appear tone deaf, and in the long-term damage its reputation. Shaping your message and tone around your audience’s situation and needs is vital.

Arielle Lapiano, Director of Communications and Public Relations at Paul Hastings, says: “People shouldn’t look for a gap in the market as much as they should ask ‘what do people need right now and how can we help them with that?’”

Planning ahead with purpose-driven measures

During the Covid-19 outbreak, innumerable brands have launched purpose-driven measures and services. But there is scepticism as to how long these measures can last and their long-term impact. Can a company continue to pursue these measures if things don’t improve? And if they can’t, or they have to adjust, how will comms teams handle the inevitable questions?

Heightening PR’s strategic value within the business can ensure communications are part of the initial conversation around any new measure. If you’re providing help to key workers or aiding a public service, you’ll then be better prepared to answer the questions around the sustainability of the help you’re offering. In the long run, this could help how consumer’s think of your brand.

Michael Goss, Head of Sales EMEA at Signal AI: “The reputation of a company during a crisis is based on its handling of relationships with customers and staff.”

The Covid-19 pandemic has thrown into stark focus how companies treat their workforce. Those who acted unreasonably attracted negative press coverage and were often forced into embarrassing u-turns. Consumers want to see brands taking care of their workforces. Simply put, internal stories can very quickly become external, especially if they’re handled poorly.

Aligning internal and external communications strategies is more integral than ever. And by doing so, not only can PR teams swerve unwanted media attention, they can save time and resources.

Download our eGuide fore more tips from experts on how to safeguard your business’ reputation. To find out how Signal AI can help you prove your strategic value within the organisation, request a demo or read about our customers.