What difference has the covid crisis made to working life in comms?



And what is the role of PR going forward? Later this month I’m joining a panel to discuss this very subject with James Colman, Director of Public Affairs from Oxford University and Mish Tullar, Head of Comms, Partnerships and Policy at Oxford City Council.

Brought to you by the Public Relations Oxford Group, sponsored by the Venn Group and organised by the good folk from OUP, you’re most welcome to listen in.

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What will I be saying from the agency side? Twelve PR will have been trading for 25 years in 2021. We’ve been through a few recessions in that time and worked behind the scenes for many clients during their crises over those years. Nothing of course has been remotely on the scale of this covid-19 pandemic, but the fundamentals in PR I am slightly surprised to report, have been the same.

And I say this from the perspective of someone whose first experience of recession coincided with the arrival of the first Apple computer at The Guardian i.e. very much in the pre-digital age. For me, that first recession was a very exciting time as I looked forward every day for my turn on the department computer.

When the world of communications has changed so dramatically – no one needs to be reminded that this time round everything has been digital – how can PR and crisis management, and preparing a strategy to survive and make a profit through a recession, be so similar?

The principals of good communications remain. Here are my five rules for comms in a crisis

1. Be honest.

2. Be prepared. If your brand strategy or corporate values were clear and true before the crisis began then they will sustain you through a crisis and can be easily communicated and conveyed.

3. Have a platform or channels of communication where your stakeholders (customers, employees, shareholders or journalists) can reach you, and communicate regularly and clearly through them.

4. Provide good content that people want to read. This might be great visuals for Instagram, a pithy opinion piece for a trade journal, or a fascinating interview for radio, but basically something worth engaging with.

5. Don’t allow your corporate speak to get in the way of talking sensibly. If there’s one big take out from covid-19 it is “community”. And yet still people insist on shoe-horning corporate messages or mission speak into copy and content, when ‘show don’t tell’ and ‘be human’ would resonate so much more.

If I had to pick the single most important point? It has to be good content because this is a universal truth for any channel – digital, print, broadcast.

Next year Google is introducing something called the ‘Page Experience Update’. This will start ranking pages based on how users perceive the experience of interacting with a web page.

There are a host of technical measures this will apparently include, and the excellent website Search Engine Land can explain them better than me.

The upshot is that you have to create content – words, pictures or sounds – that people want to see or hear if you want them to engage with you. If you can engage with them then you can survive and thrive though a crisis.

And that is the role of PR – strategy, creativity, great writing and engaging content. It hasn’t changed, we just have to do it faster now and at the moment, from our homes.

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