Public Relations – Advantageous Even in Sensitive Times

COVID-19, the global pandemic is not only re-defining the global health crises but is one of the biggest challenges the world is facing, post the era of the second world war. Besides health crises, it has the potential to hamper socio-economic progress along with leaving behind deep scars on business developments and its processes. In order to overcome the long-lasting effect of this virus and to turnaround the narrative focusing on the new-normal, organisations and businesses are re-working on their marketing and communication strategies, to cater to heightened fears, and with stock markets in freefall, travel at a standstill, an overburdened healthcare system and grocery stores struggling to cope with consumers rushing to stock up on home items, there’s been plenty of news for reporters to cover.

During this time, it’s important to be judicious in how you tell your story—and evaluate whether this is the right time to be telling it at all.

In these testing times, it is crucial for businesses to gain the trust and confidence of its patrons in order to be at the consideration set and not just by sending across communication through advertisements. Here comes the role of Public Relations, since it involves  dependency on the third-party and the messages are communicated through editorial pieces, it amplifies the credibility and thus the impact. People are aware of the fact that they are seeing an “advertisement” or not. It is because of the same reason that most of the PR-content are classified as earned media and advertising as a paid media. Also, as per report by a leading research body, PR is a 90% more effective tool of communication to influence a consumer’s decision-making process. So, if you’re pushing back on announcing or unveiling any major campaign or initiative, that doesn’t mean that you have to be entirely dormant.

In this current climate, does your messaging still stack up? If not, then a messaging revamp exercise could be in order, as well as gaining consensus from your key stakeholders that everyone is on the same page with brand positioning, and developing materials that tie back to this foundation.

As a result of the pandemic, audiences are largely dependent on the online mediums to consume information and thus a strong media presence will help to create a wider visibility for the brand. The generation today analyses and questions the information provided rather than accepting and believing what is being served and thus Public Relations is of crucial importance as this will get a credible news source to speak for your organisation / business / brand. Moreover, being a part of the news recurrently also helps the brand to maintain a top-of-the-mind recall. In a country like India, business ethics and the value proposition attached to a brand is sometimes more important than the product being sold, thus, establishing the ideology and the person that represents the brand is another important factor that PR Programme focuses on. If your audience resonates with the brand, its ethics and beliefs, they will stand by, even in tough times. Thought leadership can prove to be a valuable tool, a well-written and researched article aids to serve your brand, considering the fact that you may not have some substantial information about the new launches, products or developments. With people spending most of the time at their homes there is a lot of potential for insightful articles and content pieces. Do it for your audience, for yourself and for the brand you represent.

Besides this PR is a complete package that put to use multiple tools like – press releases, spokesperson’s interactions, syndicated articles and collaborating with influencers and bloggers. Having a closer look at what PR does to a brand, one will realise that it attempts to reach the target audience in every way possible, traditional and new-age media and thus strategically spreading across the information in the format the generation prefers today. Also, during the time of the pandemic, newspapers curbed from printing physical copies and the news-hungry audience shifted to alternatives to feed themselves with information. Accessing information through online sources has seen substantial growth and many events are either converted into virtual events or are being pushed indefinitely (depending on what future holds). This has opened up a door for different formats of spreading news – live virtual interactions, webinars, podcasts, and virtual events further widening the horizons for both media and public relations.

During these unpreceded times, sensitivity is the key and highlighted responsible branded content is a pressing priority that calls for equal consideration for both internal and external audiences. With this pandemic defining new normal and changing lifestyles, it is important to come out with newer solutions in helping brands to reach and connect with new changed audiences with all-new mindset and communication strategy. Evolution is the need of the hour and all the energies should be driven to activate a welfare communication plan focusing on norms of sanitisation, hygiene, temperature checks of employees, the impact of the pandemic on business to humanise the company, and bounce back strategy that ensures everyone comes stronger and better. 

Finally, remember that companies, including brands like yours, are designed for the long-haul. Building a brand’s visibility, thought leadership, market competitiveness and reputation requires dedication and perseverance.

However, history has shown that some of the most prominent brands have started and flourished during tough times, including Airbnb, Dropbox and Square. If history continues to be our guide, we’ll see more innovations emerge this year – from automation/AI, cybersecurity, digital health (including telemedicine), fintech and HR tech, among others.

Now might be as good of a time as any to build and hone your brand’s story.

By Ms. Neha Bajaj,
Founder and Managing Director, Scroll Mantra Pvt. Ltd.