COVID-19: Stop Marketing and Start Communicating

March 20, 2020 Sarah Parker

"Stop marketing, and start communicating." - Jennifer Donahoe, PR and Social Media Account Director, Planit Advertising

The above quote- and title of this post- seem to be the big takeaway from the webinar the Cision team hosted yesterday around Best Practices for Brand Communications in Times of Uncertainty with a panel of experts from across the industry. 

In addition to Jennifer Donahoe, we also heard from Scott Peacock, Director of Public Relations and International Tourism, Visit Raleigh, and Jim Prosser, Managing Director of Corporate and Advisory Services, Edelman. 

Jim kicked things off by sharing highlight's from Edelman's Trust Barometer 2020 Special Report: Trust and the Coronavirus

In what is perhaps a surprising finding, there is a critical role for businesses to play in this uncertain atmosphere; employees trust their employers to vet and share information with them about the ongoing situation on a regular basis, above even the government or traditional media. 

Scott Peacock reminded us all to take a long lens on this situation. While travel and tourism is ground zero for this particular crisis, it will eventually recover with a pent-up demand for travel and experiences after periods of quarantine. In the meantime, everyone is gravitating toward light, outdoor, happy content. Content that says "we are here for you, we are part of this community and we will get through this together" — there is still a space to tell those stories. 

Other key takeaways: 

  • If you haven't already, pause all of your social posts. This situation evolves hour-by-hour and what is appropriate now may not be by this afternoon. 
  • Don't plan for "if", plan for "when" — this virus will affect us all in 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 ok to maintain humor both internally and externally, just keep it thoughtful and on-brand. 

Overall it comes down to communicating openly, honestly, and frequently with your employees, audience, stakeholders and community. Communicators will have to talk to leadership about difficult choices in balancing business with empathy.

Keep in mind that the biggest harm to brand reputation comes when people think you don't care about a situation, so be sure you approach all of your communications with a gut-check, asking if it is something people want to hear from you right now or if it will come across as opportunistic. 

When in doubt, tap your personal network and ask them to be honest with you about any content that you're planning. 

More resources

To say it is a strange and difficult time for brand communications would certainly be an understatement, and we at Cision want to be a helpful resource for you, so that you in turn can be the same to your employees, customers, stakeholders and community. 

In addition to the recording of the webinar, you can find a resources page specifically aimed at best practices around COVID-19 communication efforts that we will continually update. Don't know where to start? Our one-page guide is a good place. 

And look for another webinar soon, as there is so much more to discuss as this situation evolves and best practices and details to consider are slightly different depending on industries.

Stay safe and healthy and let us know if we can help you in any way. 

About the Author

Sarah Parker

Sarah A. Parker is the Content Marketing Manager for Cision, planning, producing and curating content across channels. She previously managed content and social media for several different brands, in addition to working as a freelance writer. Find her on Twitter @SparkerWorks where she is happy to talk all things social media strategy, the dynamic world of PR, and mastiffs.

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