PR & Marketing Tips For Covid-19 and Beyond


Actions to Take, Tools to Use

These are challenging times. And, for many, facing the uncertainty of when this pandemic will end and what its ultimate impact will be is even more difficult than social distancing. It’s important to remind ourselves that we’re all in this together. Everyone will process this differently, and the most vulnerable among us may not be able to ask for help. In this trying time it is especially important for every organization to rise to the challenge and live their values.

Table of Contents

People
Put Individuals First
Amplify Important Messaging
Encourage Healthy, Helpful Behavior

Marketing
Review Your Paid Media Campaigns
Perform a Social Media Audit
Improve Online Listening
Set Up Advanced Data Analytics
Audit Your Website for SEO

Content

Refine your content strategy
Write a Leadership Letter

Operations

Advice for Startups
Think Long-term and Stay the Course

People

Put individuals first

Every communication should begin with empathy and a focus on the individual. This is a time of unprecedented individual stress, as people are stuck at home, with many separated from their loved ones, wondering what the future holds. Make sure your employees know you care, and that someone is available to listen.

Managers should take stock of their reports’ living situations. Who is self-isolating with family or roommates? Who is on their own? Special attention should be paid to those who are living alone. Create opportunities for people to come together over video chat for non-business reasons to communicate, decompress and possibly even grieve, depending on their level of comfort. Set up meetings with no agenda other than to talk and to let people share.

For leaders, it’s important to project an air of calm in this time. This doesn’t mean downplaying the severity of the situation; it means speaking in measured tones and focusing on small tasks that can be accomplished in a day or two in order to maintain a sense of order and progress. In meetings, find room for positivity. End with a quick check-in to ask if anyone has found a silver lining to sheltering in place: more time with children, family, pets, or just a break from their commute.

Amplify important messaging

Even on a normal day, it can feel like there’s too much news. During a crisis, people are inundated with it. With this in mind, it’s important to share only the most relevant information with your organization, and to do so in a way that doesn’t overwhelm people. Only the most vital Covid-19 safety updates should be mass emailed or messaged company-wide. Prioritize actionable advice from your state or city government regarding shelter in place status and prevention and treatment information from the Center for Disease Control.

It’s also pertinent to reduce the noise on internal channels. If employees are sharing a large number of news stories, consider creating a distinct channel where they can be shared, so employees who don’t wish to see them don’t have to.

Externally, if you have a large reach through social media or email, use this as an opportunity to amplify actionable, official messaging, but do so with discipline. Put the most important health and safety information in a single post or message. Refrain from resharing it unless that information goes out of date. On social media, consider pinning the message to the top of your Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook pages, or in your Instagram bio link, rather than posting it more than once.

Encourage healthy, helpful behavior

Staying home or sheltering in place isn’t just about personal safety, it’s a vital contribution to public health. Make working from home mandatory and help staff feel positive about being cooped up inside. Let them know they’re not being idle, they’re making an active contribution to stamp out the pandemic.

Make sure they know that while sheltering in place means staying home except for critical errands. According to the World Health Organization, getting out for a walk or a jog is okay, as long as people maintain a safe distance from others – avoid parks and other places where people are likely to gather. Physical activity, fresh air, and sunshine is important for maintaining a healthy mental state.

Also, for people looking for more ways to help, there’s currently a blood shortage in our nation’s blood banks. To give safely and maintain social distance, blood banks are scheduling appointments. The Red Cross is the best source of information on how to donate. This is another good message to amplify on social channels.

Marketing

Review your paid media campaigns

While earned media is a critical part of most media strategies, it becomes difficult to leverage in times like these; media outlets are laser-focused on Covid-19 stories, so where does that leave the rest of us?

In times when earned media is hard to come by, turn your sights to paid media. Unlike earned media, paid media is an avenue you can control—you get to choose the message, the audience, and the medium. It gives your brand an evergreen presence that can cut through the noise and deliver your message to key audiences in times when earned media coverage is difficult to come by.

Paid Social
Paid social is a strong addition to marketing campaigns on a normal day, but in a global climate like today, paid social becomes even more valuable. Social media is a critical communication tool; use has skyrocketed since shelter-in-place orders took effect and shows no signs of slowing down as the public shelters at home for the next several weeks. As isolation increases, many people—customers, employees, teammates, prospects—will turn to social media for some form of social or emotional support.

Paid social media allows you to share content with users beyond the ones who follow your brand on social media, so you can grow brand awareness or your follower base while people are increasingly spending time at home on their devices. Social platforms like Facebook have an incredibly low barrier to entry for advertising—you can run campaigns through your own social media accounts, and minimum ad spend is as low as $1/day.

Social media platforms are also a treasure trove of first-party data, so brands can hone in on their target audience via advanced targeting tactics—meaning every dollar you spend is targeting those most valuable to your brand.

And that’s not to say you have to be peddling your product or service in your ads—you could offer a free trial, sample product, or a simple “we’re here with you” message to drive awareness, engagement, and goodwill with customers.

Paid Display
All the benefits of paid social media apply to display, but instead of appearing on social platforms, display ads appear on websites all across the web (and on mobile apps, as well). Display ads come in many forms—banner ads, native content ads, video ads—but they’re all effective ways to drive brand awareness and website visits at a time when a lot of people have nothing to do but browse the web.

Paid display isn’t for every budget or strategy—there are often minimum monthly spend requirements, so depending on your business goals and cash flow, it might make more sense to focus on paid search or paid social. However, paid display is a powerful, effective marketing tactic that should carefully be considered in any marketing plan.

Paid Search
If you currently run search campaigns on Google Ads, you’ve probably noticed your performance drop. You’re not alone: Businesses across industries are seeing a drop in search traffic due to Covid-19. Depending on your business goals and cash flow, this might be an area where you can trim funds, at least temporarily.

It’s also important to take a look at your current campaigns: Are there any that are irrelevant in the current climate and should be turned off? Should any of your ad content be edited to reflect current customer concerns?

Depending on your business, it might be worthwhile to create an entirely new campaign to address concerns based on the global pandemic. (Note, however, that Google is blocking all keywords related to Covid-19 to prevent those attempting to capitalize on the crisis. And even if those keywords were available, they shouldn’t be used anyway; Google’s reasoning is sound.)

Perform a Social Media Audit

In the coming months, the media and the public will be extra sensitive—companies that don’t strike the right tone will generate a lot of negative sentiment. Brands need to show their commitment to public health as well as the safety of their workforce and customers. Now is the time to audit your social media strategy and make sure you’re providing a combination of uplifting stories as well as examples of how your brand is addressing the Covid-19 crisis.

Since they’re stuck at home, people will be spending even more time online and on social media. There’s an opportunity to capture more attention here, but it needs to be for the right reasons, and with the right content. Talk about how you’re caring for your employees on LinkedIn, share positive stories about individuals on Instagram, and talk about what you’re doing to help the public (or spread the word about what the public can do to help each other) on Twitter and Facebook. The brands that take care of people and provide positive moments for people to share will be remembered in a good light.

Improve Online Listening

Online listening tells us what people are saying in regard to your brand or products, your competitors and your industry beyond your own social channels. By determining the sentiment, volume, trends, SOV etc of online conversations that are happening about and around your company, your company’s leadership can make more informed strategic and tactical decisions.

Now more than ever, it’s important to know what customers and prospects feel and do, and why. If you’re getting lots of positive engagement, you can find out why and add more. If it’s negative, you can determine the cause and turn a potentially brand damaging conversation around through proactive outreach.

And it’s simple to set Voice of Customer (VoC) programs to listen for references to Covid-19 or other shifts. Use online listening to monitor customer discussions about health concerns or information needs relevant to your brand.

As the pandemic continues, so do its economic implications. Smart companies need to keep track of both threads. Online listening provides a way to hear changes in customer sentiment and behavior. You’ll be able to see what is trending among your competitors and in your industry and determine the right timing for another narrative.

Ultimately, online listening can give a real-time, data-rich view of the conversations surrounding a crisis. Now that a week of news can unfold in an hour, this type of information helps more than just your social accounts—it helps your business.

Set Up Advanced Data Analytics

It’s essential to stay on top of the shifts in search trends as changes in people’s behavior occur due to social isolation and remote work. Set up automated reporting dashboards to review web traffic and spend to ensure your company is not reacting rashly to noisy data—make sure any changes in strategy are supported by clear data trends. Widen the scope of your analytics to account for and record any significant data fluctuations that may arise during this time.

A robust marketing attribution plan organizes website traffic data across channels so that every interaction is correctly weighted. So expand your analysis to think about other trends that may cause data fluctuations and check analyses for statistical significance.

As the situation continues to change, an important thing to keep track of is any type of regional impact. Use a data visualisation tool such as Data Studio or Tableau to begin benchmarking your regional data depending on how the status of the situation shifts.

Remember: Google is blocking ads capitalizing on the coronavirus to prevent misinformation. Terms like “coronavirus” and “Covid-19” aren’t really terms you should be pursuing anyway. People are likely to be extra critical of anyone targeting these sensitive terms. Even if you’re presenting good offers or information, it might upset people – you don’t want to look like you’re exploiting a crisis. Instead, make sure all your ad copy and website messaging are in full support of employee and customer wellness.

Audit Your Website for SEO

If you have less inbound business, use the opportunity to get your house in order and perform an SEO audit of your website. With little to no cost and a few days of work, you can raise the online visibility of your business.

First, enroll your site in an SEO checkup tool, like Google Search Console, which is totally free. If you’re using WordPress, the Health Check & Troubleshooting plugin is an excellent free option, while Yoast SEO has a free version with good basic features. All of these tools will alert you to crawler errors, which are problems Google is having when it scans your website to index it—fixing these should be your highest priority.

Next, work on your keyword strategy. Keywords are topics users are searching for—creating content around them can help you get traffic and raise your search visibility. In a blog post, try to mention a keyword organically in the first 150 words of a blog post and in headings on major landing pages on your site. For more on keyword strategy, check out this excellent primer from Hubspot.

Another easy SEO upgrade is adding alt tags to your images. Alt tags are like hidden descriptions for images, and adding accurate descriptions that relate to your keywords can give your pages a lift. Yoast SEO has a good guide for getting started.

Finally, you can start looking into the page authority and domain authority of your site and your competitor’s sites using Moz. Getting backlinks (links back to your site) from high-authority sites helps a lot, but so does linking out to reputable sources. If any information on your site comes from Wikipedia, media organizations, or other high-trafficking sites with lots of good research, cite them as a source and link to them. Google will recognize that you’re using high quality sources and it will help your ranking.

For a great step-by-step checklist to optimize your site, check out The Complete SEO Checklist For 2020 at Backlinko. If your site is on WordPress, try WordPress SEO: the definitive guide from Yoast SEO.

Content

Refine Your Content Strategy

In the last three weeks, you’ve probably had to hit pause on thoughtfully scheduled and crafted content. Lives have changed in ways no one could have anticipated, and some people are genuinely fearful about what’s next. It’s not business as usual at all.

It’s time to take a step back, reevaluate your tone and timing, and produce content that helps people. It’s an opportunity to foster communication and create community.

You might consider:

Blogs – Write a series about how your company is responding as a business to the pandemic.

Videos – Right now, video is the only way we can be part of our communities, offering an authentic human connection. It’s a good moment to foster that relationship, and speak directly to people. Make a video of content that might have otherwise been written and build a bridge.

Social Media – Like videos, social is an even more important way to foster a sense of community and comfort. Be a resource: amplify important messages from official sources and opportunities for people to help.

Leadership letter – If you haven’t already, send out a letter to your clients and community to let them know that you care and are available.

Email – Send a message on how you’re promoting the safety and health of your employees and how you plan to keep doing business.

Landing pages – Companies that have been severely affected by Covid-19, or are in a position to help, have created landing pages to address the issue and keep users informed.

Your content strategy needs to communicate the right message, which right now is demonstrating care. For the foreseeable future, you’ll need to reevaluate your content strategy’s tone every week.

Write a leadership letter

It’s never been more important to communicate directly and honestly with your community and clients. The news cycle is nonstop, and everyone is being inundated with info, some true, some false. A trusted voice can break through the noise, distribute accurate information, build community, and even coordinate effective actions.

People are looking for leaders to sort through the food of information, demonstrate quiet strength, and help frame decisions. A leadership letter can accomplish all of that.

Tips for a successful letter include:

  • Acknowledge the present situation calmly. These are challenging times for everyone.
  • Address your community, broadly defined. This isn’t just about clients.
  • Show empathy. This is the moment to remember friends and family.
  • Be a resource—ask how you can help.
  • Talk about ways your business is adapting to the pandemic, and what that means for clients and employees.
  • Include a call to action – a way to help, a news source to follow, or a link to your own social media.

A good leadership letter follows a simple recipe based on honesty. The best ones lay out further steps and clearly illustrate the integrity of your company in a difficult time.

Operations

Advice for startups

Few companies are having an easy time right now, but especially not startups that rely on funding rounds which until recently have been plentiful. Now the pace could slow for a few months or so. Facing global investment challenges, limited partners are closely eyeing their investment allocations, and some are minimizing their exposure to an incredibly unpredictable market. Venture capitalists – other than the most established firms – will, inevitably, have a tougher time raising funds, make fewer investments, and granularly scrutinize all deals (even more so than now).

The funding environment for startups, the increasing highs and lows, reminds some of us here at Sparkpr of the dot-com bust of 2001, and the capital dry-up brought on by the 2008 recession. We know because we were there; and we survived. While the Covid19 pandemic is substantially graver and broader in human scope, our experience during the Aughts does offer some guidance today.

Veteran venture capitalists like to point out that some of the best technology companies were born during difficult times. Withstanding hardship can eventually lead to a stronger outcome. Below, we offer five tips to help startups responsibly manage their resources to weather the storm.

Cut burn
Examine monthly expenses and trim the superfluous. But remember that burn rate is not just about how much cash is spent every month or how long what’s left in the bank will cover costs. Startups need to also examine why the burn rate is what it is, and predict how spending levels will develop as the company grows. Even the most sound business plan will fail without cash flow.

Don’t plan based on funding rounds
Instead, plan based on the funds you already have. Don’t assume that the present rate of investment will continue to be possible. Key accounting terms include unit economics and cost of growth. Unit economics are the revenue and costs of a business model, on a per unit basis. Cost of growth frequently pertains to the main company expense, which is often, unfortunately, employees.

Trim staff costs to preserve jobs 
No founder ever enjoys losing members of a carefully constructed team. But sometimes, in difficult climates like this one, layoffs become a painful but necessary process. How a startup does it can have a tremendous impact on the company’s future. Try to trim headcount costs across the board while preserving as many jobs as possible, perhaps by trimming all salaries in the short-term. John Chambers spoke about layoffs on the March 20th edition of Techonomy. He advised companies that if deeper cuts are necessary, to do them upfront so as not to bleed out over time. Successive cuts over time will only erode trust from all stakeholders. Freeze new hiring.

Look to existing investors/and or customers
A startup’s best tactic is to use its existing investors to get the backing they need. Build a funding solution with your present investors – from there, it will be easier to expand the funding base. If reaching out to investors isn’t doable, turn to the customer and partner side. Both steps will boost a startup’s credibility, and therefore, fundability.

Stay educated
Finally, remain informed of changing government regulations for portfolio companies.
Here is a key resource: The National Venture Capital Association – Coronavirus Information and Resources for VCs and Startups.

Think long-term and stay the course

This crisis is temporary, and if you want to stay ahead of the curve when it’s over, you need to shift your current focus. Now is a good time to develop a short-term strategy to address the immediate issues at hand, as well as a long-term approach that will set your company up for future success beyond the current crisis.

You should have a 90-day plan in place that roughly follows this model:

April

This is the time to be conservative. Politely decline media inquiries and keep your eye on discussion trends across the media. Make sure you have a basic, in-house FAQ for employees and for responding to external inquiries.

Use the downturn time well and get your house in order. Make sure your website is up to date, not just in terms of Covid-19 messaging but also general business. Now is a great time to finally do that SEO audit (more on that below). If you can, you should also engage with charitable causes and public good initiatives to see how you can help.

May to June

It’s time to start looking at the state of the world and seeing what sectors are active and where it’s appropriate to start pitching. Analysts and members of the media will be open to webinars, and hopefully there will be room in the newscycle for a new story or two. You should prepare a content calendar that can go into place once the pandemic is waning and things start returning to normal.

*This note reflects guidance as of 3/31/2020

Thanks for taking the time to read our PR & Marketing Tips for Covid-19 and Beyond. Please share this post and feel free to reach out to us directly at [email protected]