Business leaders are no strangers to challenge or disruption, but the unthinkable scale of the COVID-19 crisis forced businesses to respond quickly and to adapt their operations in unexpected ways – including switching to remote work and responding to an array of delicate questions from concerned stakeholders. As the government-mandated lockdowns ease, and businesses cautiously acclimate to a “new normal,” we are starting to see the effects of the pandemic on a wide variety of industries.
From our observations in working with some of today’s leading B2B companies, we noted three key strategies that we have used to help them communicate effectively amid the COVID-19 disruption.
- Keep key messages but adjust your delivery
During times of business disruption, open communication and frequent public contact is essential. Part of our job as PR advisors is to help our clients continue to communicate their messages effectively, build relationships and tell a compelling story about our clients and their products.
DPR Group’s clients are primarily tech-centered companies in the manufacturing, B2B software, health care, clean tech, and supply chain industries, so their operations have remained relatively stable throughout the pandemic. Although these companies’ key messaging stayed the same at the onset of the disruption, their strategies needed to be quickly re-examined and adapted to abruptly shifting market conditions.
In periods of uncertainty, it is critical for agencies to reshape clients’ marketing efforts to respond to such a crisis in whatever way necessary. At DPR Group, we have revised our clients’ strategies to meet the current market needs by developing modified messaging, promoting new initiatives, reworking timelines, and placing less-urgent projects on hold.
At the height of the disruption, we helped our clients project a message of calmness and certainty intended to manage the challenges of today while envisioning a positive outlook for tomorrow. More than this, our clients ensured that their company’s purpose addressed the new concerns and priorities of consumers, namely product and service safety accountability. To meet that goal, we directed much more time and attention to generating and posting reassuring, positive content, especially through social media channels.
For example, we have one California-based client that offers their training and credentialing services online to a wide variety of healthcare providers. We realized that those same healthcare providers were overwhelmed dealing with COVID-19, so we temporarily scaled back on projects, such as case studies, which required direct client approval. However, we continued to draft tip sheets and bylined articles, which we submitted as appropriate to relevant trade and healthcare related publications.
- Maintain a robust social media presence
In times of crisis, silence breeds uncertainty, and uncertainty is toxic for business. To avoid this chain reaction, we advise clients to stay active on all social media platforms. Companies that remain active on social media convey the message that they are still in business and that they are working hard on behalf of their customers.
Social media has become an indispensable cornerstone of any integrated PR and marketing strategy. We advise our clients to use LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to extend the reach of their influencer content by sharing relevant press releases, blogs, case studies and/or videos.
However, be aware that your social media content will be more closely scrutinized and judged at a higher standard in times of crisis. Create positive content along with your regularly scheduled posts that is helpful and informative, as well as promotional. When times get tough, you need to show customers and prospective customers that you are a critical service and that a crisis will not inhibit your ability to perform.
One of our longest-standing clients, QuestaWeb – a premier provider of integrated, Web-based global trade management (GTM) software solutions – offers a great example of how to proactively use social media to build awareness and engagement with prospects. When COVID-19 effectively shut down all trade show events, we worked with QuestaWeb to capture the attention of their target audience through a carefully calibrated social media campaign via video.
DPR Group created the concept, script, and timeline, and worked with a videographer partner to produce the final product for several 2-minute product videos. Instead of screening the videos at industry conferences, as initially planned, we positioned them on conference websites, as well as on social media – Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
We took our restructured approach a step further by devising and implementing a targeted LinkedIn advertising campaign. Working with QuestaWeb to create paid outreach that fit with their budget, the campaign targeted each video at the LinkedIn page of a prospective customer which matched specific demographics. The result? QuestaWeb has seen a huge uptick in engagement – 21,000 video views with a 15 percent completion rate and 300 unique website visits in three weeks – a substantially improved LinkedIn presence and even greater industry brand awareness.
- Be mindful of perception when pursuing downturn opportunities
It’s the nature of competitive business to adapt to shifting circumstances and pursue opportunities created by economic downturns or marketplace disruptions. However, “perception is reality” is a PR and marketing truism that can make or break a company’s brand and good name. The line between market opportunity and crisis exploitation is constantly shifting.
During a crisis, it’s vital to avoid being perceived as exploiting the situation. Recently, we worked with a New York-based energy-efficiency fintech company called EMPEQ, “Empower Equity.” The company’s specialty is in providing funding that enables companies, non-profits, and municipalities to replace outdated HVAC, energy systems, heating /air conditioning and other critical equipment and infrastructure. Our original plan was to announce the company’s new round of funding to help other building owners reduce their carbon footprint.
EMPEQ had already been helping companies secure loans for critical equipment when the COVID-19 shelter-at-home mandate swept across the country. While it was certain that EMPEQ could benefit from promoting their services during the height of the economic strain, we needed to determine if the aim and timing on a press release would be appropriate.
In this case, while conducting background interviews with EMPEQ executives, we discovered that some of the businesses that had just qualified for loans could use this funding to improve infrastructure while conserving cashflow during the downtime. We helped the company recraft their message for a press release entitled, “EMPOWER Equity announces $2 Billion in Funding to Provide Critical Equipment Capital During COVID-19.”
As public relations advisors, it is important to know when to draw the line so that companies do not come across as trying to take advantage of a natural disaster. In this case, we decided that helping EMPEQ promote their funding was justified, because it would help get HVAC installers back to work and help business owners upgrade their building’s infrastructures, while preserving cashflow at the same time.
Adapt for Success
History reminds us that the business leaders who can adapt to change more effectively are the ones who succeed in the long run. 2020 will long be remembered in future decades for the global pandemic and the rapid changes that occurred across nearly every industry. If these remarkably long first six months of the brand-new decade have taught us anything, it is to be prepared for the unimaginable.
Looking forward, we predict that the B2B organization that acclimates to the changing environment, that remains true to its core brand, and that defines the value it brings to its intended audience, will be rewarded with success.
Dan Demaree is Founder & CEO of DPR Group