No surprises that coronavirus is dominating conversation at the moment. I’m a bit pissed off that I’m contributing to it, but after 10 straight days in isolation I don’t know what else I’m going to talk about.

Just looking through the trending tool over the last 12 hours on Buzzsumo, every article in the world seems to be addressing something to do with the global crisis, understandably.

It’s unprecedented that worldwide the press is so united on something.

So what can we do?

As PRs and marketeers, as the media landscape changes, so does our strategies if we want to ensure results. This brings up some pertinent questions.

  • Do we adapt our strategies to include coronavirus, or create something entirely new?
  • How can we do it sensitively so that we are providing advice, rather than capitalising on a bad situation?
  • Do we intentionally sidestep the news agenda and seek out those few journalists that are looking for different content?
  • How can we stay sane when it’s mandatory for our profession to read the news everyday?

Personally, I think as PRs one of our principle jobs is reacting to current affairs, so providing commentary and advice on the matter isn’t a loss of integrity. I believe that in many ways this situation simplifies and highlights the core values of PR; we have to adapt to the news landscape to provide something valuable and of relevance to readers.

However, there are many different tactics and valid approaches across the industry, so who better to ask than some of my expert PR and marketing pals on their top tips on how to deal with the coronavirus outbreak dominating the news.

After I started asking around, I ended up getting far more than I had initially bargained for; with some really useful tips on how to navigate the news landscape, up-keeping morale and wellbeing, how to deal with clients – as well as some useful tools that will come in handy during this time. So let’s see what they got.

Navigating the news landscape 📰

Katie Powell, Digital PR Strategist at Rise at Seven thinks we should be creating fun, lighter stories in order to keep people positive,

“As PRs, this is our time to do what we do best – think reactively and strategically about creating engaging and fun ways to talk about our clients within the news to uplift readers and bring a bit of light relief to their day. We’ve seen a lot of journalists actively looking for non-Coronavirus based stories so the opportunities are there to collaborate. People need to read both informative stories that provide them with tips and tricks to get through this time of uncertainty, but also silly stories that make them have a bit of a giggle.” 

On the flip side, I spoke to professional blogger, Michael Huxley, Founder of Bemused Backpacker, who said we shouldn’t be abandoning our strategies, but simply postponing them,

“Act on the basis of reassure and postpone, not cancel. Despite all of the panic this crisis will end and people will want to travel again. This crisis does not mean your message is irrelevant, It is just a matter of shifting the focus slightly and preparing for the future.

As a blogger and influencer himself, he notes the importance of having those relationships and leveraging them in a time of crisis when everyone needs as much support as we can get.

“This is the time you should be reaching out to professional bloggers and influencers even more, not pulling up the drawbridges. We are not just a marketing platform, if you have a good relationship with us we can also be a loudspeaker and crisis management team all rolled into one. In a time of crisis we all have to pull together and those relationships are even more important than ever before, so if your brands or clients need a press release putting out, a message about how they are dealing with the covid19 outbreak or how they are helping their customers during this time, let us help you share that.”

“I – like many other professional bloggers – waive deliverable fees for those we have a relationship in those circumstances. Let us help you calm public expectations, get important information out there quickly and prepare everyone for when things get better. And when they do get better, which they will, let us all work together to get the industry back on its feet. Get those press trips fast tracked, those campaigns in overdrive and those press releases ready, because when this is over I can guarantee the general public will be ready to hear those messages more than ever.”

Hana Bednarova from Bednar Comms speaks about the importance of keeping on top of client’s industries and not being afraid to pause a campaign or change the approach,

Every single Digital PR person will tell you that you need to read the news, see what’s happening and react to it. It’s really important to do this, especially when things keep changing overnight – which we are experiencing now. We need to understand how our clients’ industries have been affected, what are their competitors doing and what we can do in order to approach the best strategy. 

“Sadly, sometimes the best decision can be to pause a campaign we were planning to do. This, however, does not mean that we should stop all activity. We just need to get back to square one really quickly and think again, come up with different tactics and act as quickly as possible.” 

Keeping up morale 🌼

Working in PR, it’s difficult to avoid the bad news stories all the time. This morning I just got sick of it and closed all news sites for a couple of hours. But it’s virtually impossible to switch off to it permanently when it’s compulsory for our job to keep up with current affairs. Which begs another important question; how can we manage our anxiety around the current global uncertainty whilst ensuring we’re still up to date enough to keep on top of trends? It’s a tricky balance.

Katie from Rise at Seven also sent me some great tips on staying sane during this time,

“As a PR you live and breathe the news. So it’s a bit of a nightmare if like me the constant coverage of Coronavirus makes you anxious. I’m trying to ensure I’m giving myself breaks from the constant scrolling, listening to my favourite tunes (as I write this I’ve got Natasha Bedingfield – Unwritten blaring out, sorry neighbours) and chatting to friends and family.

“I think the PR community is doing a great job already of leaning on each other, everyone’s offering to help and providing support. The Rise at Seven gang are having regular video check ins to make sure everyone’s doing okay and still managing to crack on as much as possible. We’re even having a virtual trip to the pub tonight over Hangouts, I’ve got my Prosecco at the ready!”

Sarah Lloyd, Founder of Indigo Soul PR mentions how we should be looking to keep spirits up through communication and positive stories where we can,

“First, it has never been more important to keep communicating – the PM is doing this extremely well and is keeping the panic (as far as I can see) to a minimum. Even by sharing the smallest update it is keeping most of us sane.  We have access to fabulous technology that can keep us all connected and it is time we starting using it in a more positive way. 

“From a business or freelance perspective, we will see shifts in our workloads – but I can only see that as a good thing. Many of us have been working many hours, and it could be a good time for many to take stock and decide what it is we really want to offer. What also is a breath of fresh air is journalists looking for good and positive news stories to keep spirits up and to help with peoples mental health, it is all to easy to focus on the stuff we haven’t got at a time like this, so I would suggest we focus on what we have and how we can best serve others.”

And finally, if you’re missing the ambiance of the office, Jake O’Neill, Marketing manager at Vuelio has some tips to create background noise,

“A Spotify playlist or your podcast of choice doesn’t typically replicate the unique noises of your usual workspace, and can even be distracting if remote working is new to you. Recreate the noises of the office (or forest, or beach) with a Noisli free account, or the sounds of working from a coffee shop with Coffivity if you want (simulated) company.”

Keeping clients on side 🙌

Nick Ringrow, Senior Account Manager at Brands2Life has been very busy responding to client requests and having to jump on things last minute. However, he highlights the importance being reactive and keeping clients happy at this time, 


“During the crisis, it’s more important now than ever to ensure we are exceeding client expectations. This might mean turning things around quickly, gaining some quick wins or jumping on more reactive opportunities; essentially providing results in any way possible.  It’s also about being there from a consultative manner for your clients, acting as a sounding board and helping them to see alternatives to the traditional marketing activities we do during “the good times”. Studies show that those who continue to invest in marketing at a time like this are more likely to come out the other side stronger, so continuing to prove the value to clients at this time should be the key strategy for any PR.”

Steph Cripps, Account Director at LADBible Group says it’s about adjusting strategies to suit the current landscape,

“For me, the most important step in getting back to some semblance of business as usual is understanding where our clients fit amidst the pandemic and then from there how we can suitably adjust our workflow to complement working from home.

“We have contingency plans on top of contingency plans for live shoots and we’re constantly developing new ideas that can exist within the realms of social distancing and staying inside. It’s a new world that we’re operating in and we’re constantly evolving our own processes and rules to make sense of it all. It’s unrealistic to wait for this to quieten down so we have to adapt our plans to work in tandem with the global narrative.”

Mark Best, Owner of Blah PR who specialises in PR for Arts has been struggling as events and projects are postponed. He notes the importance of discussing future options,

“Obviously if you have been paid and already done the work then it’s time to contact the client and talk it through with them. If they are postponing then what is the situation with extending the budget until later in the year? As we all know, Arts coverage is the first thing to be dropped from news coverage when things like this take over, but if you are working on something that is visually impactful then they still need things. In the meantime, don’t hide yourself away, organise daily FaceTime calls with friends and keep smiling.”

Laura Hogan, Owner of digital marketing agency Jelly Bean thinks it’s about keeping communication as clear as possible,

“Don’t be afraid to have conversations about putting a pin in campaigns, if they won’t work right now.  It’s better to be open and honest with clients and put a plan in place for a bigger launch of the campaign in the future and spend the time now focusing on other PR opportunities for them.”

Useful tools 🛠️

Finally, Dave Cain, Senior Digital Marketing Manager at Arriva Group provided us with some lovely tools that he uses. Thanks Dave!

“With PR being focused around trends and data, much like many other digital channels such as SEO and PPC, many of the same tools can be used to find quick and meaningful insights, below is a list of free and paid for tools that I use.”

Trends and topics

Keyword, audience and content insights:

Conclusion

There are a whole host of approaches and tactics, and in the end you have to do what’s right for your individual industry, client and landscape. Seems like everyone agrees with one thing though; keep smiling, stay positive and support each other ✌️

Jess Hawkes

Senior Digital PR Specialist

Senior Digital PR Specialist. 50% tea, 50% opinions. Often mistaken for being sarcastic even when being sincere. Best use of PR in a Search Campaign, European Search Awards 2019.

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