PR and the pandemic: charting a challenging course

Follow these directions: Public relations professionals must carefully chart the days ahead, warns media and marketing expert David Chauvin.

CNN had the results of the Florida Democratic Primary as its top story for maybe 10 minutes – results that would seem to have effectively ended the historic presidential campaign of the once-transcendent Bernie Sanders and solidified Joe Biden as the Democratic nominee.

Nary a blip in our public consciousness.

And just one of the astonishing changes crystalizing what coronavirus has done to the national conversation. All news is now COVID-19, or nothing.

Where does this leave the public relations professional? We still have jobs to do, campaigns to create, stories to tell. But there’s a temptation, perhaps even a sense of moral obligation, to suspend all PR campaigns and plans not directly related to coronavirus or public health.

While it’s vital to not come off as tone-deaf, we shouldn’t – and mustn’t – lose site of the projects and campaigns that people have worked so hard to develop. So, how do we carry on with these plans while no one will be listening? And how do we do it in a way that doesn’t seem ignorant or insensitive to the plight of the suffering?

Understand, PR pro, that this work will be challenging – perhaps more so now than ever. Like a good professional, you were already slammed with work long before anyone knew what a “novel coronavirus” was. Now you have to incorporate a near-round-the-clock response to an escalating crisis.

David Chauvin: You have a job to do, PR pro.

Embrace the challenge and practice self-care. Push through with your regular obligations for as long as you can; assume everything is still a go, until it isn’t.

Put plans in motion now for the post-pandemic world, even if we don’t know when or exactly what that will be. Travel industries, medical facilities, school districts and other industries facing extraordinary and frightening circumstances will adapt and recover – start mapping out now what a rebound communication strategy should look like.

Use positive language that stresses recovery and prosperity. Engage with your clients daily. Find out where the line is between attentive service to your client and being a pain in that neck, and get right up to it.

Remember, all the feelings of anxiety and concern that you’re feeling right now, your clients are feeling as well. Reassure them that you are still here for them and still working on behalf of their goals.

In a time of unprecedented confusion and change, what so many of your clients are looking for right now is a steady hand and a calming voice. Be that voice.

Human beings are uniquely capable of dealing with conflicting emotions and reactions. We can all agree that the suspensions of the NBA and NHL seasons were the right things to do while simultaneously bemoaning the lack of games.

Basketball and hockey are fun – we don’t have to pretend that we aren’t bummed they’re gone. So, too, can we carry on with our normal business in light of the crisis that’s taken over our way of life.

Most importantly, remember: We’ll get through this together. Your job as a public relations professional is to spread that message far and wide.

David Chauvin is executive vice president of Great Neck-based public relations firm ZE Creative Communications. and former director of communications for the Town of North Hempstead, among several government positions.


1 Comment on "PR and the pandemic: charting a challenging course"

  1. Excellent advice to those in the PR industry. The day after this crisis is over, I fully expect a client to ask, “so where’s that brochure?” And I want to be able to say, “I emailed a draft to you yesterday.”

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