Thanks to COVID-19 and social unrest, 2020 brought an unwelcome wrinkle to public relations game plans.
Put out the wrong message – or even the right message with the wrong approach – and a business can end up sounding insensitive or opportunistic, driving away both the media and the potential customers they are trying to reach.
Yet, despite the difficulties, many businesses, organizations and individuals are rising to the occasion, finding ways to thread the needle and promote their brands with tact, says Marsha Friedman, founder and president of News & Experts, a national PR firm.
“When there are sensitive topics in the news, businesses that continue to have PR success are those that are equally sensitive in their approach,” says Friedman, who is also the ForbesBooks author of Gaining the Publicity Edge: An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Growing Your Brand Through National Media Coverage.
“I know some businesspeople have wondered whether they should just put publicity on hold until the world returns to something approaching normal. But with the economy struggling, most simply cannot afford to abandon their promotional efforts altogether.
“So, for most of them it’s not a question of will you promote your brand. It’s a question of how you will go about it.”
Friedman offers examples of what businesses, organizations and even individuals are doing right as they promote their brands during these tumultuous times:
They figure out where they fit into the narrative. “Clearly, those in the medical professions can speak to the media about COVID-19 and the efforts to care for people who are ill,” Friedman says. “But the coronavirus is affecting us in such a widespread way that experts in all areas of life have something valuable to offer to the media’s audiences. There are business angles, economic angles, legal angles and many others.” She says her firm represents a pitching coach and arranged interviews where he discussed how athletes can continue to train when their sports have been brought to a halt.
They avoid wedging themselves in where they don’t belong. “Smart businesses and professionals don’t force a connection, trying to put themselves into a news story where there’s no logical relation to their expertise,” Friedman says. “Doing that makes it appear as though you’re trying to take advantage of what’s happening. A financial professional wouldn’t be offering medical advice, but they could provide input into a news story about what to do if you’re suddenly hit with large medical bills.”
They understand the value of social media. Social media is a major player in the way businesses promote themselves, and that has continued during the current crisis, Friedman says. “They need to be careful, though, because there have been too many examples over the years of brands creating a backlash over a social media post,” she says. “But as long as they stick to their expertise and share positive messages, it works well. One of our clients is a corporate culture expert who has used his social media to offer businesses advice on keeping their company culture healthy during a crisis.
“As we go through these difficult times, businesses should remember that they can continue to pitch their expertise to the media, they just need to do so with empathy and sensitivity,” Friedman says. “A little thoughtfulness and care can go a long way in helping them accomplish their goals.”
Marsha Friedman, the ForbesBooks author of Gaining the Publicity Edge: An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Growing Your Brand Through National Media Coverage, is a businesswoman and public relations expert with nearly 30 years’ experience developing publicity strategies for celebrities, corporations and professionals in the field of business, health and finance. Using the proprietary system she created as founder and president of News & Experts, an award-winning national public relations agency, she secures thousands of top-tier media placements annually for her clients. The former senior vice president for marketing at the American Economic Council, Friedman is a sought-after advisor on PR issues and strategies, who shares her knowledge both as a popular speaker around the country and in her Amazon best-selling book Celebritize Yourself.