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Thursday / December 8.
HomeNewsCOVID-19 Comms: Lead with empathy

COVID-19 Comms: Lead with empathy

illustration of teamwork and leadership

Lead with empathy and humanity, said John McCartney, managing director of Wise PR, during the second installment of Cision’s webinar series, Best Practices for Brand Communications in Times of Uncertainty. McCartney was joined by fellow PR experts Aisha Fletcher, director of communications and public relations at Brinker International and Bill Zucker, managing director, food team leader, at Ketchum.

Zucker echoed McCartney’s sentiments, saying: “Our new brand is empathy plus intelligence.”

Now more than ever is the time for brands to listen and to “read the room.” Brands should be precise and thoughtful in their communications, ensuring that the messaging is relevant, accurate and strikes the right tone for the target audience. This practice, which should be standard operating procedure in the best of times, becomes especially important now; no one should be force-fitting a story.

Fletcher added that it’s the comms’ professional’s job to push back on leadership if they want to force a story or narrative that will ultimately be harmful to the brand. While it’s easy to skip steps in a time that feels chaotic and like everything is top priority, PR pros should work harder than ever to ensure that steps aren’t skipped.


Additional takeaways from this trio of experts included:

  • Be prepared for reentry: Just because you didn’t close down during this time doesn’t mean you aren’t “reopening.”
  • Planning now won’t be a quarter out, it’s week-by-week. While the plans made might not be followed, they will keep you grounded.
  • Think about how, as a PR pro, you can add value to the work the media is doing.
  • Remember that journalists are people first, and use this time to build and reinforce relationships.
  • Avoid sending tone-deaf pitches.
  • Use social media to stay on top of your audience, what they’re discussing and what questions they need answered, not only the news.

“A lack of response says something, but the tone of a response says even more,” Zucker said.

A recording of this webinar can be found here; the first webinar in the series as well as additional COVID-19 related resources can be found on this page.


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