Crisis Communications, Marketing, Public Relations

Post-COVID-19 Communications: Preparing for What Comes Next

By Sandra Fathi | On May 29, 2020

We are all waiting for COVID-19 to be behind us. Unfortunately, the reverberations of this global crisis are going to be felt for a very long time to come.  Our home and professional lives have been disturbed, shifting many aspects of our day-to-day into largely unfamiliar territory. And the truth is, although we might all want things to go back to ‘normal’, we are never going back. We can only move forward and adapt to the new reality that we will be facing. As a PR and marketing agency, we are focused not only on the way we interact with one another in person and in business – but through our media and communications practices. The best way to address these changes is for communications professionals to take a step back and ask two questions: “What can we do now?” and “What can we do to prepare for later?”

The answers to these questions will guide communicators with where to start. After adjusting to new guidelines and finding best practices at Affect, I’d like to share some of what we’ve learned:

Modern Media Relations: Communicating in the Midst of COVID-19

If you read my last blog post, then you may be familiar with my take on media relations right now during this crisis. Above all, it’s vital for communications professionals to identify and pursue the best path forward when interacting with the media in this new terrain. For example, navigating the fine line between providing helpful information and being seen as trying to profit on the back of a tragedy, understanding that this is a human and economic disaster that affects each of us – even journalists, and conducting the due diligence necessary to understand what people want to read, and write about at the moment. 

Planning Ahead: Preparing for the Next Phase of Business

At Affect, we are also helping our clients prepare and plan for the next phase of their business. For many, the pandemic has put a portion of their work on hold or in limbo as companies curtail resources and contract spending. Whether it was caused by a government mandated lockdown, consumer behavior or business paralysis, every industry has been impacted. For companies that have experienced unavoidable losses during Q1 and Q2, there will be immense pressure on marketing teams in the second half of the year to make up that ground and help their organizations get back into the black. Here’s how we can prepare:

  • Get resources ready: From website redesign to content development, there are plenty of opportunities to prepare your business for the months ahead. Key marketing materials such as case studies, white papers and research are three examples of ways you can build up marketing ammunition in the meantime. 
  • Pursue projects on the shelf: Now is the time to do any of the planning and prepping that has been on the backburner for a while. Marketing fundamentals such as analyzing your SEO, data and analytics to help you understand what is most effective and how to be more prudent with your budget, which may be negatively impacted later this year. In addition, planning updated messaging, positioning and new products or service evaluations are all tasks that may have been put on hold and can be addressed during this time. 
  • Reimagine existing plans: Your company may have relied on tradeshows and events for lead generation or in-person user conferences for customer engagement. It will be a long time, if never, before most of those types of events reoccur in the same format. Some organizations are creating online versions of these traditionally real-world events. Others are planning hybrid models – a smaller forum in person (to keep socially distant) and a digital contingency that is remote only. 

Coming Out of COVID-19: Adapting to the New Media Reality

Things are going to be different. Returning to our previous ways of life and work will not happen all at once, and that includes the media. Consider this:

  • Competing for coverage: Sadly, some journalists and publications may not survive the pandemic’s economic impact. Instead, there may be fewer overwhelmed reporters to pitch, and fewer publications to receive and publish the news. Affect’s media audit last month showed that 65-85% of major news coverage was about Coronavirus or related to its impact. This type of intense media focus will not dissipate quickly. Media coverage will be more challenging to come by with a consolidated media landscape. 
  • Pitching resiliency: People are looking forward to stories of resilience and rebuilding the future. The New York Times recently reported that searches for “good news” have reached an all time high in response to the more negative headlines circulating throughout the media right now. Reporters’ interest in these “feel good” stories will be high in demand as people will want to see businesses succeed and hear more about getting back to work as businesses are reopening and rebounding.
  • Special interest and industry outlets: Small may be the new big. Although many special interest publications have fewer subscribers than traditional mass media, they offer businesses an opportunity to speak exclusively to their customers and prospects. This more narrow, but effective, focus may be key to PR programs that deliver greater ROI for B2B companies in particular.  

Having worked in crisis communications for the past 20+ years, I have seen my share of crises but nothing has ever had the kind of devastating personal, and professional, impact on a local and global scale as COVID-19. As we are all still grappling with the effects of this continuing event on the various aspects of our lives, we are also looking forward. I believe that the human species is optimistic, resilient and adaptable by nature and marketers and PR professionals may be on the highest end of that spectrum. We are certainly all being tested at this moment – and we will come through together, on the other side. 

Sandra Fathi

Sandra Fathi has spent the last 20 years helping technology, healthcare and professional services companies achieve their goals. As President and Founder of Affect, a public relations, marketing and social media agency, Sandra has successfully led the company with consistent growth since the agency’s inception in 2002. Sandra is also active in the communications industry and professional community. She has been a board member of the PR Council and has served as Chair of PRSA’s Tri-State District, President of PRSA-NY and President of the PRSA Technology Section. Adding to her accolades, Sandra has been recognized as one of PRNews’ Top Women in PR, a PRNews PR Professional of the Year finalist, and a Bulldog PR Agency Professional of the Year.