COVID-19 is causing closures across the nation and the world, but many PR agencies are still operating, helping their clients weather this unprecedented storm. But how are these agencies working to protect their employees and their clients?
Clients in Crisis
For many businesses and brands, the coronavirus pandemic has been catastrophic. Business has vanished overnight, they’re laying people off, and struggling to find a way to keep things going, all while worrying about what everything will look like when the economy is up and running again. And, for companies that are surviving, many are experiencing greatly increased demand, increased criticism, as well as much brighter spotlights on their business practices.
Beyond that, major advertising and marketing opportunities such as trade shows and conferences are canceled, leaving many brands wondering how they will close that massive gap in their sales plans and marketing programs. For some companies, this will mean putting all their advertising and marketing efforts on pause, simply because the cash flow isn’t there. For others, this will mean greater investment in brand building and customer connections.
PR professionals need to be sensitive to this and prepared to manage all of these scenarios with the understanding that emotions are elevated, people feel additional urgency and, in some cases, desperation without any idea of an end date.
Game Planning for the New Normal in Workflow
While working from home may be the safest option for many companies, that move is not simple or seamless. Set up expectations for communication, workflow, and team interaction so that employees are not left guessing. Be sure to work at some latitude, because this is new and uncomfortable for most people.
Create and distribute comprehensive business continuity practices, so that both employees and clients experience as little disruption in routine as possible, while also protecting your staff from mistakes that can happen with abrupt shifts in environment and workflow.
Most people are not set up in a business environment from home. Transitioning to this environment requires both physical and mental shifts and continual awareness. Encourage team members to set up dedicated areas when possible. To create a “zone” that reminds them to be more focused than they might normally be at home, even if they’re wearing sweatpants to their next Zoom meeting.
Essential Travel and Virtual Protocols
With travel to and from many countries already restricted, there’s not much latitude, but what about employees who are accustomed to traveling domestically for in-person consults, meetings, or conferences? Those situations should be carefully considered on a case-by-case basis. Is the travel “essential” or merely “preferable”? Can the goal be realized and the job be accomplished through tele-commuting? If so, what shifts or accommodations should be made? It may feel uncomfortable, especially for people new to the technology or for those who thrive on “feeling the room,” but it’s better to be uncomfortable in the short-term while keeping the long-term health and safety of colleagues and customers in mind.
In making decisions about “essential” travel, keep the health and safety of team members and their families in mind. A healthy employee might have a vulnerable family member that they cannot put at risk. That said, limiting travel is not enough. Smart PR firms will develop new protocols for implementing the technology that allow us to stay connected virtually. Be intentional to avoid accidents and embarrassing moments.
Giving a brand hope and a plan in a time of crisis, finding creative ways to connect with “distanced” clients, communicating with frustrated customers, and adapting to new workflow processes. All of these factors offer opportunities for PR professionals to shine.