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COVID-19: Stop marketing and start communicating

In mid-April, Cision hosted a webinar with a panel of public relations experts from across the industry to unwrap Best Practices for Brand Communications in Times of Uncertainty.

The webinar featured Jennifer Donahoe, PR and social media account director, Planit Advertising; Scott Peacock, director of public relations and international tourism, Visit Raleigh; and Jim Prosser, managing director of corporate and advisory services, Edelman.

Prosser kicked things off by sharing highlight’s from Edelman’s Trust Barometer 2020 Special Report: Trust and the Coronavirus.

One finding worth noting is the critical role businesses play in this uncertain atmosphere. Employees trust their employers to vet and share information about the ongoing situation on a regular basis, above even the government or traditional media.

Scott Peacock reminded listeners to take the long view on the current situation. While travel and tourism are ground zero for this particular crisis, the industry will eventually recover following a pent-up demand for adventure after periods of quarantine. In the meantime, he noted, people are gravitating toward light, happy content that shows the outdoors in its full glory. There is also much space to tell stories that communicate “we are here for you, we are part of this community and we will get through this together.”

“Stop marketing, and start communicating,” advised Donahoe.

Other key takeaways:

    • If you haven’t already, pause all of your social posts. With coronavirus news evolving hour-by-hour, what is appropriate at 10:00am may not be appropriate by 3:00pm.
    • Don’t plan for “if,” plan for “when” — this virus will have an impact on all of us, one way or another (and likely already has).
    • This is a time for brand values to shine. People will remember how you treated your employees and what you did or didn’t do for your community.
    • Remember that humor is a coping mechanism for many and it should not be lost in this situation. It’s okay to maintain humor both internally and externally, just keep it thoughtful and on-brand.

In a nutshell, the best practice is to communicate openly, honestly and frequently with your employees, audience, stakeholders and community. Communicators and brand leadership will need to have frank conversations about how to balance sound business decisions while remaining empathetic.

A brand’s reputation is severely harmed when the brand is perceived as uncaring or insensitive. Approach communications with a gut-check; is the messaging something people want to hear from the brand right now, or will it come across as opportunistic?

Still unsure? Reach out to your personal network and ask for an honest evaluation of any content that you’re planning to publish.

More resources

In addition to the recording of the webinar, there is a continually updated resources page that is specifically aimed at best practices around COVID-19 communication efforts, as well as a one-page guide to get you started.


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