The pandemic’s pervasive impact on our lives has made the once-specialized service of issues and crisis management part and parcel of just about everything we do for our clients.
In normal times, we offer 24/7 issues management support, advising them on how to navigate sensitive matters and optimize stakeholder communication. It’s delivered at a high level on an ongoing basis to long-standing clients — anything more hands-on was a relative rarity.
So how have we approached consumer campaigns while managing the ever-reaching COVID crisis?
First, acknowledging that the pandemic has impacted our clients, their businesses, and their stakeholders is key. But also understanding how external audiences will receive and apply their own lived experiences to a brand, product or service. We cannot put blinders on and execute campaigns without understanding this impact. Pandemic-related messaging has to be integrated into everything we do.
Second, proactively addressing and integrating pandemic considerations into messaging and campaigns is a reflection of today’s (hopefully temporary) reality. We look for silver linings, insights, and interesting comparisons between before COVID-19 (what we refer to as “B.C.”) practices and performances and current trends to inject relevance into everything we do. For The Home Depot we’ve been successful at showcasing DIY home improvements such as homework and home office spaces, or ways of modifying outdoor spaces to extend their use into the colder seasons.
And third, public relations practitioners are experts in audience engagement – but we need to acknowledge there is a fine line between incorporating pandemic realities and exploiting the issue. Back in March, my colleague, Chris Wood explained why capitalizing on a tragedy can hurt your brand. Eight months later, we need to be even more vigilant about how we communicate to media, investors, employees and customers, to make sure the way we’re doing so is authentic.
Integrating issues management into every campaign we develop is a temporary approach but one that emphasizes our ability to be strategic and create messaging that resonates no matter the circumstances.
I look forward to a time when public health measures and concerns are no longer part of daily life. Until then, we will make sure that we’re acknowledging how lives have changed, how some businesses have innovated to persevere and how others are being negatively impacted. This will all be a distant memory one day and the way we communicated through it will become case studies on effective communications approaches. It will be nice to emerge on that side of the looking glass.