By Taryn Scher, TK Public Relations
Moments after news of the Europe travel ban was announced, a colleague in the travel industry informed me that his company was in a holding pattern for all public relations activities as the coronavirus threat was assessed. I’m here to tell you that’s exactly what not to do.
While an updated plan for the short term is necessary and something your team should already be discussing, remember that PR is about the long term.
We’ve been here before — after 9/11 businesses suffered major impacts — especially across the tourism and hospitality segments. Many businesses cut their PR and marketing budgets to compensate those losses. But the biggest winners were the ones who remained steady. They found a way to stay in the short-term conversation but continued to look ahead at the long-term big picture.
Here’s some advice I offer for you to implement over the course of the next several weeks as things remain uncertain:
- Be willing to pivot. Understand that the media focus is largely on the coronavirus and its impacts — even journalists who typically cover “lighter” issues are having to cross over and modify their usual beats. If you can find a way to stay in the current conversations without damaging your core values and long-term goals, by all means do so. Most media will not entertain a pitch that doesn’t relate to COVID-19 in some way right now so if you can be relevant, do it.
- Don’t be afraid to admit your business is hurting. Everyone is hurting right now — except maybe Charmin and Lysol. You don’t have to pretend your business is performing the same as it was two months ago. Share what you are comfortable sharing. You don’t have to offer exact numbers, but there’s nothing shameful about your business underperforming at the moment.
- Don’t stay silent. Stay quiet only if it’s a legal matter or something you are completely unqualified to talk about. Chances are a journalist approached you because they assumed you would be qualified to speak about the issue — why do they think that? If they were totally wrong, you might need to look at a later date at your communication strategy about what your business does. If nothing else, remind them of your role/your organization and what you do to clarify why you aren’t able to offer a comment.
- Establish yourself as an expert and leader. How is your business confronting the current conditions? What are you planning for this week, next week and beyond? We are absolutely not saying you should be an expert about the pandemic. Instead, focus on your own industry and the procedures you have in place and as Oprah says, what you know for sure.
- Stay true to who you are. Don’t jump on a bandwagon just to be part of a conversation. There are a lot of opportunities for “flash deals” for travel right now; don’t become known as a discount destination (unless that’s part of your long-term strategy) just to get some press.
- Don’t forget your internal communications. Talking to your staff and employees is crucial. Keep your customers in the loop as well. Keep everyone updated regularly on policies, procedures and talking points for any external communications.
Remember that PR is about long-term branding and consumer awareness. Yes, this too shall pass. Use this as an opportunity to foster new relationships with journalists and build trust and reliability with your current network. By being an open, reliable source, you could become a journalist’s best friend through this process and once this all blows over have a new asset in your Rolodex.
Keep calm and sparkle on.
The Sparkle Boss