But here’s the hard reality: “Normal” is, at best, a long way off. And it won’t look like it used to. The sooner PR professionals embrace this, the faster the brands they represent can navigate the new world and the evolving needs of their stakeholders.
Making that shift, both mentally and practically, is tough. A crisis of COVID-19’s magnitude demands almost constant attention. Unexpected twists happen daily. It’s too easy for red-marked email messages or urgent phone call to pull us away from longer-term planning.
How communicators handle the present is crucial; reputations will be made, preserved and broken. At the same time, we must increase priority on planning for the future.
Here are a few forward-looking questions to ask:
- What will be the long-term effects of the pandemic on the business? Lockdowns will go away eventually, but we’ll be living with changes and restrictions for months, perhaps years. That will affect every organization. Many nonprofits, for example, will be assessing how the people they serve are affected, how that changes their work for the foreseeable future, and what resources they’ll need (or can count on) to do that work. In some cases, COVID-19’s effects may transform a nonprofit’s mission entirely. That has tremendous impact on communication planning and strategy.
- How will people be affected long-term? The pandemic is revealing gaps in just about every aspect of operations—employee benefits, safety net resources, business continuity, marketing and communication strategies, audience engagement, you name it. All of this involves people. Workers have lost jobs. Families have lost income. Communities face economic hardship. Stakeholders may feel disconnected. A robust PR plan will understand those effects, focus on authentic empathy and encouragement, and point to relevant, meaningful support for those affected.
- What unique strengths can your organization bring to the post-pandemic reality? It’s tempting to think about turning a crisis into a business-growth prospect. That’s a sure path to a reputation of being opportunistic and predatory. Instead, you should look at specific strengths you offer to drive an equitable recovery for all. What’s unique to you? Where can you partner with others to do more? How can your stakeholders become part of that work? Use targeted, diverse communications to help audiences understand and connect with you on these points. Business growth may come, but being an authentic champion for recovery should be the first priority.
- What does success look like? A hope-filled future, one that’s believable and attainable, that includes everyone, is more important than ever. Good, interactive communication can describe that future and engage people in the journey. Even now, while crisis mode remains in full force, we can take the first steps in developing that story.
The faster you can pivot to PR and communication strategies building toward recovery, the better positioned you’ll be to strengthen your impact, bring your stakeholders along and adapt yourself to the new “normal.”