Apr 29, 2020 / in Comms Best Practices

Take 5 with Cision

Welcome to our new series here on the Cision blog: Take 5. It's five quick questions on PR, the state of the industry, and how it interconnects with everything else (like the current COVID-19 communications crisis), all with the brightest minds around. You can read the first one here

We've gotten so many great insights from the experts in our webinar series on Best Practices for Brand Communications in Times of Uncertainty we wanted to follow up on some of the questions we received to share with a wider audience. 

Bill Zucker, Partner, Managing Director, Ketchum shares his thoughts below. 

Q1. What advice would you have for someone finding it difficult to message their company's content because the message from their executive team is constantly changing?

It’s understandable with the fast-moving nature of COVID-19, a company’s actions and communications needs will change rapidly. That doesn’t mean the message needs to change. A best practice remains to set guiding principles as an organization on how you will act in this crisis while still adhering to your true North Star as a company. Parts of your story will have to evolve but they should still flow from those principles. As communications counselors, we can help those executives land on those principles and stick to them in the decision-making process.

Q2. Since we’re all navigating a changing situation day by day, is now a good time to plan out the strategy for the brand?

This is a perfect time to plan brand strategy and those that aren’t at least dedicating some of their thinking to short and long-term brand strategy could find themselves at a competitive disadvantage. It’s why our Ketchum Rebound team is working directly with brands, digging quickly and deeply into the competitive landscape, to understand where and how they can accelerate the anticipated lifts. We’re also encouraging brands to map out what permission to re-open various aspects of their business really looks like. It’s not just a question of whether a government has said it’s okay; stakeholders have higher and specific expectations of what a brand has done before figuratively or literally reopening.

Q3. Any hyper-specific thoughts on how to keep mindshare as we get closer to crisis messaging saturation/attention fatigue?

Saturation occurs when we speak in stale or overused euphemisms. There are only so many times we can act “in an abundance of caution” or state “we’re all in this together.” Getting your executive’s real tone and voice is important right now. But I still believe, as I said in our Cision webinar a few weeks ago, that erring on the side of consistent direct communication with your most important stakeholders, especially employees, is the winning plan. No one can fault you for keeping your most important audiences updated. A CEO video to employees is very likely to be seen and appreciated by other stakeholders even it wasn’t directed to them.

Q4. As we are now several weeks into this, thoughts are beginning to turn to re-entry and what's coming next. How do you balance letting audiences know you’re a safe place to go when things begin to shift, with empathy and understanding, and without sounding too sales-y?

As brands and businesses reopen, there will be a strong expectation for both. Customers will want to know that you are protecting their families and your employees, and it won’t be enough to just say you are following government guidelines. At Ketchum, we have created a COIVD-19 Rebound Matrix (does that sound too sales-y?) that helps brands consider those broader expectations of what to stop or start doing in order to gain stakeholder permission to be “open for business.”

Q5. How do you think this crisis will affect the PR profession?

Amid a lot of turmoil we will see in the PR profession, the optimist in me says we will rebound as a profession and be taken more seriously by CEOs and operation leaders. While the concept of PR pros as business advisors is already gaining traction, COVID-19 is sure to increase acceptance of the value we bring in fast-moving crises. You can see the hand of our profession all over the successful decisions, actions and communications coming from companies in the heat of battle.

PR’s role as an advisor in COVID-19 will not be forgotten.

Bill Zucker, a veteran of television journalism, leads Ketchum’s U.S food and agriculture industry team and is an expert in crisis communications. In his food sector role, Bill oversees the agency’s work with major food and agriculture brands and serves as an issues advisor to some of the top food and retail companies in North America. Bill was named PR News Crisis Communicator of the Year in 2005. During his 15-year career as a journalist, Bill worked as a producer, reporter and newsroom executive at five television stations and one radio station including WBBM-TV in Chicago and WABC-TV in New York, where he earned a regional Emmy for producing the documentary “Return to Vietnam.”

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