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PR firm urges businesses to adapt marketing strategies to crisis


The COVID-19 crisis has been hard on businesses, but it also presents new opportunities that can be taken advantage of, according to a Birmingham-based public relations firm that spoke at the Business Council of Alabama’s Engage Alabama conference.

Louise Oliver, president and founder of Peritus Public Relations, headed a virtual presentation that exemplified what it communicated: that companies can adapt to the pandemic in ways that advance their brands.

Oliver said she founded her firm after she recognized that a common thread among successful companies was their ability to communicate and connect. In this rapidly changing business environment, that ability may determine a company’s future, she said.

She recommended identifying five groups that are important for an organization to communicate with, like customers, vendors and civic leaders. She also recommended identifying five channels of communication that an organization prioritizes, like a website and social media channels.

Oliver and two of her colleagues gave 10 tips that company leaders can use to improve their communication:

  1. Get more visible by sharing your voice, which can be as simple as continuing to post to social media or as significant as taking a public stance on a major social issue. The important thing is to be authentic. 
  2. Strengthen important relationships by proactively communicating. Reach out and check in without any agenda. Be human. Get conversations started.
  3. Reinforce your values and communicate them. Many avoid this for fear of coming across as tone-deaf or insensitive. Weave your company’s core values and mission into everything you communicate. If core values aren’t in place, work with employees to develop them. “If you don’t have your core values in place, crises can often expose this,” said Mary Elizabeth Roberson, director of public affairs at Peritus.
  4. Audit, improve and streamline communications. During a crisis, do a threat matrix. Make a list of worst-case scenarios that could happen to the company due to the crisis, then go down the list and come up with ways to respond to each. Lean on your industry association for best practices in a crisis.
  5. Reinforce and build on your team’s trust. Be transparent, provide consistent updates and open new lines of communication. That will build loyal brand ambassadors and minimize turnover.
  6. Enhance customer relations. Extend the transparency you provide your employees to customers and vendors. Be proactive, especially when problems arise. Let them know immediately. Give regular updates and communicate the “why” behind your decisions.
  7. Become an industry thought leader. Tell your innovation story. The Market at Pepper Place shifted early in the pandemic to providing a drive-through farmer’s market. They then hosted webinars for other markets around the state to learn how to launch their own drive-through operations.
  8. Connect with your community. Companies can offer something virtually that helps people solve a problem. Oliver’s clients have launched virtual services or offered things for free. One wealth management company started holding “Financial Fridays” to provide advice that could help ease anxieties about money.
  9. Build and leverage media relationships. Reporters are looking for storytelling opportunities and are looking for different ways to talk about the pandemic. “Oftentimes, we have clients that are doing something really cool or innovative but they’re so in the weeds, they don’t see it as such. We always encourage them to take a step back and think through the possible media angles this could have, or what impact they’re having in the community or on their customers and how this could be played out in the media,” Roberson said.
  10. Show your human side. Everyone has been affected by this crisis, Oliver said. If you communicate that, people will respect it and be inspired to support your brand more. Be authentic. “It’s ok to relax your traditional tone of voice or formality to remind others that there are people behind your brand and your business,” Oliver said. She recommended meeting with your team to discuss how to better communicate virtually.

Micah Danney is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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