The world hasn’t seen anything like COVID-19 in a very long time. For quite a number of us, the coronavirus crisis has been the most significant, and perhaps, the most traumatic experience of our lives. This period has been overwhelming for employers and employees alike, and there’s no denying that the productivity level of some companies is hitting the bottom line. Perhaps COVID-19 has affected our day-to-day business (large, medium and small enterprises) and we’ve had to cancel/postpone important events or we incorporated work-from-home as the new company policy.

From a business perspective, companies generally cannot be successful where societies are not functioning well. Business owners need a long-term solution to remain operational, protect their customers and staff and keep the bottom line strong. But at this period, when everyone is concerned about health and safety, business (sales and marketing) can become ineffective. Notwithstanding, coronavirus shouldn’t freeze our brand’s strategy and goals even when under lockdown as a business enterprise. We need to build positive exposure, generate new products and sales, even during a devastating period like this, in order to keep our businesses profitable.

The pandemic is affecting the face of many businesses, but how should this affect your PR as a marketing strategy? These are unprecedented times – so should our marketing strategies/tactics change in line with the reality we’re currently living in?

Does coronavirus influence our product/service offering?  If so, how can we communicate that to our audience? These are probably some of the questions gurgling through the minds of various business owners as everyone is trying to get their bearings and create some kind of plan to move pass this unstable economic climate.

Everything a business does, including its operation, marketing and PR, should lead back to supporting the overall business goals. Public relations should be an integral part of a company’s ongoing marketing plan. People still need information and goods and businesses still need to provide it. But we should know things will be tougher since people are concerned and focused on global happenings. However, there are tricks to being more successful at times when the world is in chaos. Businesses can’t continue as usual but does that mean we should close up our stores, shops and offices so to say?

We need to shift our focus from brand promotion and instead look at other ways we can help and support our audience. Your audience obviously still wants you to be there, but your PR strategy needs to be sensitive to the crisis that everyone is facing. PR tools are very cost-effective and often give you a greater degree of control than more targeted advertising campaigns.

Whilst it’s essential to be sensitive to the unique conditions of the situation, here are few guidelines that will help SMEs understand how Public relations can be used as a marketing tool in this period, and consider using these PR tools to build your business’s reputation;

1. Provide Audience Value: In a time of crisis like this, providing something valuable to your audience is the first way to concurrently help them while promoting your services. Everyone is concerned about the pandemic and are focused more on their health and that of their families. So, don’t put your strategy in stasis, look for ways to stay relevant to your audience. You can even create a mini-course for them or host Questions & Answers for them because your audience still needs you and wants to hear from you. For instance, as a recruiter, you might offer a free workshop for your connections on LinkedIn. This will provide value to those in need of help while displaying their skills and abilities. Sure, there are going to be plans that you have to put in place to achieve this but that doesn’t mean your whole strategy should be on hold.

2. Advertorials: These are advertisements in the form of news, stories or reviews in newspapers. Given the gravity of the current situation and the worldwide panic surrounding it, it’s easy for advertisers to make mistakes/blunders that could stay with them even when the pandemic has passed. Marketing in the midst of a global pandemic is a delicate proposition and that is why we need to know what people are focused on because their needs have understandably changed. Advertorials allow you to associate your advertising with the credibility of the newspaper.

In this period that many faces are glued to TVs, mobile phones and newspapers, you can employ advertising or marketing professionals to help you develop Newspaper, Internet, Radio or TV advertorials — which are commonly used as a form of advertising and product placement. These ads can do a lot more than just advertise one product or one sale; each one can work effectively to bring in customers and then bring them back again and again. The most interesting part about ads is that you can target your ads to the appropriate markets by requesting that your ads run in the section(s) that most closely relate to your target audience, be it business, fashion, sports, and lifestyle.

3. Community Relationship: Build good relationships with members of the community where you do business as this can help build brand loyalty. We understand that these are unprecedented times and maybe a challenging time for the people in the neighbourhood or community where your business operates, thus, it is imperative to do your part and contribute resources to assist them. Demonstrating sensitivity to community concerns and issues will go a long way, you can give out facemasks and hand sanitizers branded in your company’s name to the people of the society. Designing and implementing community programs (volunteerism, philanthropy, donations) will improve the quality of community life and promote the company’s long-term business strategies and goals. These little acts can go a long way by putting your brand in the minds of the people.

4. Video Content: If you’re not making videos to sell products/services at this devastating period, you’re missing out. It is important to remember your target audience are anxious, scared, economically unstable and facing lots of challenges and are looking for answers. This pandemic will give you an opportunity to show that you care about your existing and potential customers. During this time, you can create videos offering free strategic tips that can help clients in this tough time. As much as this will help to influence your brand, you can also provide your customers with actionable solutions to their problems. If you can offer something complementary, such as a free sample class, do so.

As a business owner, you cannot afford to ignore the reach of a platform like YouTube and the engagement power of a video. You can do a video advert on different social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Instagram. For instance, live streaming can show your audience how your business is progressing during the pandemic. Making use of video Ad is a very efficient way to tell your brand story and even tell what your brand has to offer. But, now is the time to create value-driven content that will help your audience in this current situation. How about taking this time to create content that you’ve been putting off.

5. Sponsorships: We understand that things feel uncertain at the moment. Every company is busy and concerned about the future of the business. Many business owners don’t have the resources to support the business the same way they did before. Sponsorship is the process of providing financial support or resources to different activities in order to have your brand name associated with such activity that often creates a lot of publicity. As a business owner, you can sponsor an event, an educational workshop, a TV series, a celebrity’s apparel, a Non-governmental organization (NGO), as this can help build feelings of goodwill and loyalty towards your business. Good public relations efforts can help a firm create rapport with its customers, promote what it has to offer, and supplement its sales efforts.

These PR tools help you to stay connected with your audience, promote products and or services and to supplement your sales efforts even in times like this.

What challenges are you experiencing in your marketing and PR strategy during this pandemic? Please share in the comments.