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How to get PR right during challenging times

How to get PR right during challenging times

If you stop PR, marketing and communication during these times, your business will be more at risk than those that don’t

Whether your business has suffered after the recent flooding or you’re now braced for the effects of COVID-19, there’s one thing we’re certain of – if you stop PR, marketing and communication during challenging times, your business will be more at risk than those that don’t.

There are some businesses out there that will have genuine solutions during times like these - online services, delivery options, cleaning and pharmaceuticals to name a few. But just because they may experience an increase in customers, it’s important they sensitively handle their communication. In the franchise industry, we expect prospects to continue researching with an understanding that recent challenges will likely dissipate within a few months – eyes will still be on your brands.

How to use PR tastefully around sensitive public matters

For example, when it comes to COVID-19, the first rule is to not sensationalise the virus for your own gain. Prospects and customers alike will be quick to accuse you – and rightly so – of fear mongering. That being said, business does need to continue where possible and the media is still looking for timely, valuable content. This means you can absolutely discuss the issue at hand and leverage it to your advantage – provided you have a genuine reason for doing so. Do you have a solution to a specific problem? Can you offer some helpful advice or provide insight into the matter?

When prospects are looking to invest in a franchise, a consideration that’s always high on the list is the robustness of the business model. Franchisors who can demonstrate how their systems and technologies not only minimise the impact of a major situation for franchisees but actually support customers too will stand out. As an example, school closures and self-isolation is a very real problem for parents and students alike. Because Tutor Doctor‘s online tutoring platform helps mitigate risk and has seen a dramatic surge in demand, this is a credible story for the brand to share, not a stunt.

Business coaching firm, ActionCOACH, released a free one-hour live webinar entitled: ‘Crisis Averted – 11 Steps Your Business Must Start Today for the Coronavirus COVID-19 Economic Panic’. During this simple virtual event, global founder, Brad Sugars gave helpful tips for business owners on how to survive a crisis with an option to ask questions. Was it useful? Yes. Will it have brought more clients for their franchise partners? Most certainly.

How to protect your brand in the case of a crisis

Many businesses, especially those in sectors susceptible to challenging issues such as care, should have a slick crisis communication plan embedded in daily operations. The senior management team would consider this plan as part of their regular risk assessment for the business. That’s what every company should have in place, but plenty don’t. So, some will have reacted to create plans as they saw things unfolding in China in February while others will have started this week. Putting in policies and processes to address a challenging period is essential for any business. But if you don’t have an existing crisis communication plan which can be easily updated to be effective for arising issues, you’ll waste business-critical time on reacting where you could have been looking for product or service extensions, financial options or sales strategies to help your company survive a market downturn.

Things a crisis communication plan could help you save time on:
• Prepared statements to all your stakeholders
• A chain of command for making decisions
• A clear process for two-way communication with your network
• An agreed spokesperson for your brand who is already media trained.

If your team has run through potential crises as part of their crisis communication planning, they will also feel more confident to respond quickly and effectively when an issue arises. A confident response shared from the franchisor, through the support team, out to franchisees and on to customers and other stakeholders.

In response to recent developments in the COVID-19 outbreak, and in line with the government’s attempts to delay the spread of the virus, many brands have begun releasing statements to clarify their positions. A general statement to all stakeholders is sensible and can offer vital reassurance when it comes to disruption of service and advice, particularly for businesses in which face-to-face interaction with third parties is unavoidable. However, this does not – and should not – replace tailored information relevant to distinct subsets, be they customers, staff or suppliers. 

As with all things ‘PR’, think about how your target audiences receive information from you – not just the method or channel but the language, style and tone of your communications. Just because there’s a crisis it doesn’t mean the brand culture has changed.

The authors

TeamRev are specialists in franchise PR. Rev PR specialises in getting brands into the press and creating valuable content that feeds online and offline presence.

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