Delivering comms during Covid-19

By Tom Hindle, Lead Publisher, Bottle.

There are certain challenges that, as an account manager in a digital PR agency, you expect to face. One that I did not expect though, was Covid-19.

It was a set of circumstances that no-one could have predicted; a news agenda suddenly dominated by the pandemic, clients and journalists furloughed, and some media outlets even being forced to close. And yet, overnight, it seemed to become our reality. With just 30 minutes’ notice before the end of the day, the agency received the news in March that, from the following morning, we would be working from laptops, within the confines of our bedrooms and kitchens.

The past few months haven’t been all bad, though. I’ve learned a great deal about how to keep going during a crisis, and as we gradually begin to return to some form of normality, there are a number of lessons that I hope to take forward with me.

Quality vs quantity

Strange as it might sound, on the surface, Covid-19 actually presented an amazing opportunity for some clients’ comms. As lockdown took hold, clients specialising in workplace wellbeing were inundated with media requests for comment on the practicalities of remote working and the importance of mental health. Similarly, our motoring and logistics clients had a ready-made platform from which to shout about how the gallant efforts of their teams were keeping the UK moving.

The thing is though, Covid-19 also posed the question of what, for us as PR professionals, is our main objective. While it might be tempting to score swathes of “easy” coverage (short-term win for client), our role should surely be to expand knowledge and awareness for our reader (long-term win for client). These past few months, it’s been more important than ever before that we not only craft meaningful comms, but that we also consider how those comms will impact the audience they reach.

Escapism

During the first few weeks of lockdown, with the news awash with worry and uncertainty, we were turning in droves to social media for some light relief. Considering that, for some of our clients, their social channels are the vehicles by which we deliver the bulk of their customer comms, it quickly became clear that a rethink of our approach was required. In the majority of cases, our mission became to provide some much-needed joy.

Content that hinged on escapism has been paramount, providing the outlet that it seemed followers so desperately needed while also allowing us to ride the sudden surge in social media usage that came with a newly furloughed workforce. The lesson learned here? That adaptability should never be underestimated. For one client, a simple image of some golden retriever puppies, positioned as ‘Here to brighten your day’, became a top-performing post. For others, we created quizzes and games; the kind of “demanding” content that would never have flown pre-Covid-19, but during lockdown, has soared.

Coronacast

From the beginning, we wanted not only to reassure our clients that we were keeping our day-to-day activity moving, but that we had a finger on the pulse of how Covid-19 was affecting the media and the wider process of delivering comms. In short, we needed to show that we weren’t phased (or furloughed) and that we were still creating meaningful impact. Our Coronacast was the perfect way to achieve that.

A weekly snapshot of how the media was responding to Covid-19, our MD sent the Coronacast to each of our clients every Friday. Initially conceived as a means of keeping in touch on a regular basis, it ended up being hugely popular, with numerous clients feeding back that it was so insightful they’d gone on to share it with their wider teams. Whether it be search trend analysis on the uptake in pet ownership during lockdown or the charting of the rise of TikTok, there was no topic too big or too small for the Coronacast.

Planning

To ensure that meaningful comms are successfully delivered has always required solid planning. The past few months though – with colleagues working remotely and a uniquely unpredictable news agenda – have taken that requirement to an entirely new level.

Tools like Trello and Microsoft Teams have become essential. From planning a campaign to pulling together a weeks’ worth of social posts, showing the client that we’re always a step ahead has been crucial. I think you could argue that it would have been fair for Covid-19 to have disrupted at least some plans. The reality though, is that our accounts feel just as tight as they were before. Finding new ways to remain efficient has been quite the eye-opener and is an experience that I hope to take with me as we begin to find our “new normal”.

More personal relationships

We’ve always preferred to see ourselves as partners to our clients, as opposed to just suppliers. More than ever though, these past few months, there’s been a real sense that we’re all in this together. The truth is that we’ve helped each other. Clients have been frank with us about the challenges they’re facing, and we have done the same with them. There’s been flexibility on both sides, as we all try to work out not only how to weather Covid-19, but how to return to normal when we come out the other side. Initiatives such as the Coronacast have given us an opportunity to not only demonstrate our value, but to talk and to share some knowledge.

And, of course, that good will has extended to accommodate the many hilarious moments that come hand-in-hand with lockdown. From toddlers making catch-up cameos to the burglar alarm going off mid-presentation, I can even remember sitting on a monthly client meeting, wondering how on earth to explain the sudden delivery of a full-sized electric piano.

There’s still business to be done, targets to hit and comms to deliver. But it’s all felt very human. If there’s one lesson that I sincerely hope to take away from Covid-19, it’s the true value of communication; not just to provide gleaming reports of deliverables, but to build real, tangible relationships. We’ve weathered this crisis and continued to deliver effective customer comms. There’s no doubt in my mind that the stronger bonds I’ve forged with my clients are, at least, in some way responsible.

Leave a Reply