June 15th 2020
Founder and CEO of SLOVA Tech PR international agency for IT business/co-founder of WTECH community
The role of a PR specialists is to stay sober and level-headed. To me, a crisis is nothing but a crush test for business. I adopt new communication tactics, new strategies, and totally reinvent the processes.
PR is about building credibility based on truth and facts. Actions are louder than words, and today’s challenge reveals who is who. Behavior and decisions of a brand will affect its reputation either way.
Some businesses support their employees, customers, engage in charitable projects. Others exploit panic, run after the quick buck and save their skins. It’s true — reputation cannot be quarantined. It’s something that cannot be restored. Therefore, investing in it now is a visionary step.
Why global brands respond?
When some wrap up their communications due to cutting costs, the others boost their media presence. They sincerely want to be useful, helpful, to make things better for society. Despite lockdown and quarantine, competition is still there. Yesterday everyone in the market was playing on equal terms, and today you have to do this little waltz to win the hearts.
You join the fight against virus or you die. Brands are at risk of losing their business if they are in denial or prefer to stay out of it. There is scientific evidence proving that.
News about how a beloved brand acts and responds to virus is comforting and satisfying for 66% of respondents.
The dominant majority — 86% — consider brands to be ‘a safety net’ with the mission of filling the gaps where governments fall short.
Ultimately, 33% of respondents around the world convinced other people to stop using the brand due to improper or zero response to virus.
Let’s move from theory to practice.
Making things right
The first initiative Google’s initiative was establishing Covid-19 fund. It is meant to enable all the employees globally to take paid sick leave whether they are sick or isolated. Other than that, the staff got free access to Hangouts Meet service til July. Microsoft keeps paying hourly employees regular fee regardless of whether full service is required or not. Reduced working day will not have an impact on salary.
We can only guess what Steve Jobs would think of it. But that speaks a lot about priorities of the two giants.
Twitter developed various options to support parents with regard to additional daycare expenses. Adobe and Loom provide free access to their products for students and teachers in schools and universities. LinkedIn opened 16 online courses on everything around remote work for free.
Preply, the global edtech marketplace also decided to be proactive and enable online education and make it available for kids around the world. The project launched free language learning webinars for children between 5 and 16 years of age. Parents only need to find the relevant group and join 30-minutes lessons in Zoom. At the moment webinars are available in English and Spanish. More languages to arrive any time soon. Regardless of where one lives, it is easy to find a highly qualified, experienced and relevant tutor according to personal liking.
Marriott, Hilton, Red Roof Inn belong to the biggest names of hospitality industry which was immensely influenced by isolation. Nevertheless, these brands have given their 6,000 facilities for treating coronavirus patients.
TripMyDream proved the philosophy where employees are the most valuable asset in the business. No one was fired, no member of staff received lower salary. Andrey Burenok, founder and CEO, launched a fun #TripMyHome challenge, inviting people to recreate the country they’d like to visit in their households. The campaign turned out to be quite popular among audience: it’s fun, it’s about staying home safe, and it’s about cheering up when things look grim.
Pornhub Premium is now available in all countries for free. In this way the brand encouraged the audience to stay home and be safe. Any activity within homes is better than putting your life at risk, right?
Disappointment and true faces
There is the dark side of the Moon, where companies make terrible decisions. For instance, Bird, electric scooter sharing service, invited its 406 members of staff to Zoom webinar under the name “COVID-19 Update”. People tuned in unaware of what will happen next, thinking it’s just another online meeting. Within several minutes a robotic-sounding voice without video got people fired and left them speechless for some time.
Then there is Richard Branson. A charismatic personality known as an epitome of a perfect leader, forward-looking entrepreneur, visionary and guru, loving and caring boss.
He’d be like:
The inspiring image shattered. It was nothing but mere words. It took one serious problem to show the real value behind these quotes as well as real place of people among Virgin’s assets.
Cut to the chase: Virgin Airlines’ employees were asked to take eight weeks of unpaid sick leave. There’s more to it: company’s reps complained about awful situation airline industry finds itself in and asked government for support.
Let’s see: Branson’s personal net worth is somewhere around 4.1 billion. So if he paid his 8,500 employees from his own pocket, he would suffer a tremendous loss of 0,88%. One cannot help being curious about the availability of other options he considered.
Decisions taken at critical moments will have a long-lasting aftertaste. You can spend decades building trust, and one wrong move can break it in a blink of an eye.
Be prepared and aware
Anti-crisis set of measures is a must whatever business you run. The quarantine made one thing very clear for the agencies: anti-crisis is a substantial full-on area of strategy which has to be developed. You have to be flexible to stay alive. In your communications, you must predict unpredictable and design an array of scenarios, even the most unbelievable ones.
There has to be a custom-tailored approach for each specific brand, with testing of various interaction formats. It is essential to be useful these days. I launched consulting program and dedicate 1 hour per week to talking to teams, answering all sorts of questions.
When you identify your particular response to pandemic, choose the correct channels to inform your audience. Be transparent and accountable, keep people updated on what you do. Information is a powerful weapon; mind how you use it during crisis. Be cautious. When communicating with stakeholders, validity, clarity and accessibility of information are the three basic pillars.
Eventually, the pandemic shall pass and things will return to normal. And PR was, is and will be. Reputation matters and it has only one life. So be smart about whom you hand it to.