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One of my earliest lessons in communications was the meaning of the term “tone deaf.” I was a month into my career and invited to sit in on a brainstorm. The goal was proudly scribbled on a comically huge sheet of paper pinned to a wall…


A fresh, new set of markers was dropped in the middle of the table. Our job was to pick our favourite colour and walk up to the front and commit an idea to the collage of creativity. Luckily, a firm voice of reason from the back of the room saved us from humiliation.

“No one is going to capitalize on tragedy to sell software.”

Instead of a brainstorm, we got a tutorial on the kind of insensitivity (inadvertent or otherwise) that can raise the ire of journalists, their audiences and worse still, damage a client’s brand. These principles have served me well over the years and is a list I dusted off when the world went into lockdown in March.

Consider context: PR success comes from pitching ideas that are connected to trends in the news. It’s called news-jumping and there’s definitely a right and wrong way to do it. It all comes down to context. For example, a story on remote working tools could be relevant during summer months when the news is focused on say, balancing work with vacation. That exact same tool might be relevant during our current health crisis however, attempting to pitch a product when headlines are focused on suffering would undoubtedly be met with criticism for exploiting fear and uncertainty for commercial gain. 

Be helpful: People are worried about job security, the ability to pay the rent, putting dinner on the table and the health and safety of loved ones. Brands that can be genuinely helpful and alleviate concern – the ones making meaningful contributions to communities in need or offering things like debt-relief – are the ones people want to hear from. There’s a time and place for stories about energy drinks or how to get longer eyelashes but now isn’t it.

Be human: It’s important for brands to remember that things are scary right now and we are indeed in this together. That means we could all use some encouragement and reassurance rather than be treated as sales leads. Instead of a brand play, people expect empathy and small comforts that brighten their day. Shelving a sales pitch in favour of a message that conveys understanding and compassion shows the human side of a company and its values.

Christopher Wood
Vice President

Seeing the good
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