This year has been entirely different than years past in so many ways. The landscape of journalism has changed substantially thanks to the internet, social media, blogs, influencers and podcasts. There are more ways to communicate to more people than ever before. Picking just the right message, at just the right time, to just the right outlets is more challenging than ever before. Add the first pandemic in more than a century and you’ve really got your hands full.

It’s safe to say there hasn’t been a public relations (PR) practitioner who has ever had to navigate journalistic “waters” during a pandemic quite like this. This is especially true since the last pandemic hit U.S. shores in spring 1918 when the H1N1 virus was identified in military personnel; PR wasn’t even a profession at that time.

Pandemic Relations: Public Relations Redefined

As mentioned in previous Elevation Marketing blogs, the basic definition of PR is the building and maintaining of relationships between an organization and the people it relies upon. With this in mind, as COVID-19 continues to affect the world, it’s causing people and organizations to focus more on what matters – family, friends, good health and well-being for people the world over. More specifically, PR can align an organization’s goals with what matters to people at this time.

Now is the time for people and the organizations they work for to put the new product launches, new hire announcements, etc. on the proverbial backburner. Give your clients, customers, vendors, subcontractors, family, friends and followers what they really need – generosity, kindness, empathy, sympathy and so many other amazing human qualities that can be sadly overlooked until times like these.

“Ask Not What Your Country Can Do for You …”

The famous adage President Kennedy told the nation in 1961 could not be more important and applicable than today. Actions speak louder than words; organizations need to look at their people, their factories and their assets and see how they can be applied for good. And they need to make sure they are doing it in an authentic way. Being authentic during times like these is incredibly important. And while times are tough, certainly economically, organizations need to focus on the future, the recovery and the long-term goals of the organization. Even if it seems like forever, this too will pass, but in the meantime it’s important for an organization to do the right things for the right reasons.

We’ve already seen companies such as Dove (toiletries), Ford Motor Company, The Hershey Company, Honeywell, Macy’s Department Store Company and so many others donate time, money, people, resources, factories and everything in between to help ‘the cause’. Recent Dove advertisements ask viewers to use soap to wash their hands, whether it is Dove soap or not. Hershey donated nearly a million dollars to farmers to help support them during the pandemic. Ford and Honeywell reconfigured their plants and reassigned their employees to produce masks and respirators for healthcare workers. And Macy’s has extended their return policy by 60 days. These are just a few examples of how companies are looking inward to see how they can positively impact the world during tough times.

Good over Gain

Of course, it would be remiss if the state of the nation was not mentioned alongside these recommendations. Yes, businesses large and small are getting hit economically harder than ever before. Even with trillions of dollars’ worth of government stimulus packages, many companies are going out of business, or are on the verge of doing so. And yes, unemployment is at its highest levels since the Great Depression of the 1930s, and the U.S. government is having a hard time keeping up with the needs of its people. Still, doing the right thing is always the right thing to do.

Certainly, a phrase like that can make your eyes roll. But in 2020, the world needs it more than ever, and that includes all the people an organization relies upon for its success (the very definition of PR!). Organizations must get their best minds together and see what they can do to make the world a better, safer and healthier place. In time, the nation will open up, businesses will get back to business and the economy will begin to grow. As long as an organization’s “heart” is in the right place and they are helping to be part of the solution, the rest will take care of itself.

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