The COVID-19 pandemic affected every single industry, and the businesses that stayed afloat usually had marketing and PR on their side. Many of the lessons we’ve learned the past year have underscored the importance of authenticity, transparency, and being together. Here are some key insights we’ve learned after a year of COVID.
1. Tell the truth. Always. Recent examples are the Cinnamon Toast Crunch ‘n Shrimp Tails Twitter frenzy and the Amazon ‘pee bottle’ scandal. Both situations were clearly potential PR crises. In both situations, the ‘official’ responses simply poured fuel on the viral fire, creating a bigger mess than either company had bargained for. Predictably, the problems went viral and spilled across platforms and into the mainstream media, and sparked a lot of bad press. Frankly, we were surprised by the poor responses from both General Mills and Amazon. Neither situation needed to get as bad as it did. Businesses, take note.
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As marketers, we tell the companies we work with that there is nothing braver than being yourself, and real people tell the truth. In marketing, false claims, misinformation, and missteps will be discovered quickly, and the wrath of the consumer via social media and reviews will be hard to overcome effectively. Sending the wrong message, fudging the truth, speaking in absolutes where there are none (we’re looking at you, former guy, General Mills, and Amazon), or miscalculating the potential seriousness of a problem can all result in disaster. So why risk it? Follow good crisis management practice. Tell the truth, and be transparent. If you’re not sure of something or you need to look into the issue further, say so, followed by the concrete steps you are taking to get the answers or deal with the issue quickly and effectively.
2. Every business must have a PR Crisis Plan. After the past year, this should be self-explanatory. Poor reviews, videos, and live broadcasts of customer service problems, public health or other emergencies, or other issues can begin trending online virtually instantly. How you respond is everything, so don’t act without a defined plan and strategy in place. We recommend consulting with a PR professional or agency for this step. It’s well worth the investment.
3. Watch Your Demographics: Demographics drive digital efforts including channels, content strategies, messaging, and other tactics, so they must be considered the foundation of all short- and long-term marketing and PR strategies. New generations of potential consumers expect inclusiveness and personalization, and they wield tremendous spending power favoring connection with others through shared values and experiences. LGBTQ and younger demographics are growing in priority and they expect inclusiveness from brands they choose to support, and they vote with their dollars.
4. SEO works, and it’s time to start using it the right way. Organic visibility in the vast realm of search is everything! Great SEO begins with knowing your ideal customers and their behavior. The human element is absolutely essential, especially during continuing difficult times when people are living more of their lives online. Working real people and a human element into your PR, content, and SEO strategies can be a game-changer as you meet your customers where they are. Great content also puts your business into a thought leadership position, and journalists and reporters will notice, too.
5. Look for Newsjacking Opportunities. Newsjacking is the art of positioning yourself or your brand as an expert on a topic to provide insight or commentary into a bigger story or trend in the news cycle. Using this simple PR strategy catapults you as a leader in your industry and an expert source on specific topics. But to effectively newsjack a story, you have to be continually monitoring the news. Make it easier for yourself and set up Google Alerts to notify you of new stories on topics relevant to your industry. You can also follow hashtags on Twitter, news outlets or specific journalists on social media, and more. Better yet, get a PR professional or agency to manage it all for you.
Finally, one bonus tip that ties all of these lessons together – don’t be afraid to take a stand on the core values your brand stands for, especially when it serves the greater good of all. After a year when we learned the importance of being together and have faced down so many challenges with more yet to come, there’s room to be bold and to be human. Customers will notice.
Alexis Krisay is co-founder and president of marketing, and Melissa DiGianfilippo is co-founder and president of public relations at Serendipt Consulting.