When the COVID-19 pandemic led many brands to slash their marketing budgets, ongoing uncertainty forced a necessary adjustment to typical communication strategies. In a 2020 study from LinkedIn and Vision Critical, 74% of marketers surveyed said budget cuts were presenting a challenge at some level, and 47% reported an increased focus on emotional and human-centric content.
These trends, coupled with the need to communicate as quickly as possible with their audiences, made public relations the best response for many companies. But PR wasn’t only proven to be useful during that time—instead, the pandemic further proved PR’s unique value within a brand’s business strategy.
Let’s take a look at why PR is critical in both lean times and as a consistent strategy for your brand’s success.
A Timely Response
During the pandemic’s early months, communicating right away—and in the right way—influenced brand perception. In fact, according to a Porter Novelli study, 75% of respondents said how companies act during the pandemic will have a direct impact on whether they support them in the future. 71% said they’d stop buying a brand’s products or services if they learned the brand had acted irresponsibly during the crisis.
During times of uncertainty, consumers continually look to brands for a relevant, timely and sympathetic response. PR, when done well, is a quick way to get a company’s approach or statement out into the world without the extended timelines that can sometimes accompany traditional advertising.
For example, earned media was a key strategy for Salata Salad Kitchen as the company needed a timely way to inform the public on location closures. When reopening efforts began, our teams used the same earned media tactics to communicate safety protocols, highlight the community involvement of local franchisees, and encourage guests to support local businesses. We also helped with crisis management when guest or team member outbreaks occurred.
Navigating the COVID-19 pandemic helped brands see that PR could be a trustworthy channel and also a deeply human one. Through PR outreach, companies could elevate the voices of their leadership and provide unique insight into how the brand could offer support. One specific PR strategy—using trusted, vetted influencers on owned and social media—also helped to drive home the human connection, increasing trust and helping lift the standing of the brands they represent.
When a brand faces leaner times PR efforts represent an efficient, direct-to-audience option for communication, especially when typical media plans may be cut. These methods serve as a direct mouthpiece for the company, elevating grassroots efforts and offering alternative means for reaching the brand’s audience.
“As communication strategists, we think about the method and the mode of communication,” says Colleen Dolan, Account Director, PR. By combining creative approaches to both, PR helped many brands reach their audiences right where they were in the right way, increasing trust during an unsettling time.
An Authentic Voice
GS&F’s ongoing work with LP Building Solutions offers many chances to use PR to tap into authenticity. When the pandemic began, “we reached out to professionals we had built relationships with because we wanted LP to be a mouthpiece for builders,” says Dolan. “LP wanted to address builders’ real concerns, and elevating professionals’ voices was an even more authentic way to do that.”
This meant, for example, authoring blog posts with advice for building professionals with insight from builders themselves. It meant involving our influencer partners in responses on their channels and LP’s owned and social channels. And it meant elevating the voice of the audience by means of a trusted brand.
Success from this method with LP and many other clients shows that these tactics are valid not only during lean times but also as a standard investment in brand building.
If brands have learned anything from the COVID-19 pandemic, many have seen how important adaptability is to their success. And that’s why PR was a great fit for communication during COVID-19 and will continue to be as the world returns to normal.
PR can be adaptable and nimble, while some traditional advertising methods were put in a holding pattern due to the pandemic’s unique restrictions. For example, if you’d invested in out-of-home placements in an arena that shut down when concerts and live sports were canceled, that investment may not have the same impact as anticipated as those ad placements would likely not reach expected impressions. But PR efforts, such as media tours, can be shifted online and achieve many of the same goals and objectives that had been in place for an in-person tour.
In addition, “we learned how to review partnership content differently,” says Dolan. As clients shifted their efforts and invested in resources compatible with COVID-19 restrictions, “we helped publicize a lot of online learning and customer communication tools,” she adds. For example, LP SkillBuilder™, launched by LP® SmartSide® Trim & Siding, served as an online resource for building professionals continuing their training even as their schedules changed due to the pandemic.
Beyond Pandemic Times
Though many are still adjusting business plans in response to the pandemic, considering new tactics can help determine what’s best for a brand moving forward. COVID-19 shone a light on PR’s inherent adaptability, efficiency, authenticity and speed, and those benefits can help elevate brands no matter the season.
With our team of PR strategists, alongside experts in creative, social media, digital engagement and more, we’re always looking to help brands communicate better. Let’s optimize your PR efforts to make an impact! Reach out to get the conversation started.
Colleen Dolan, Account Director, Public Relations, contributed to this post.