In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and mass protests centered on racial equality being held across America, here’s a question to consider: Should PR firms be launching new campaigns for their clients?
We must be smart and intuitive in how we answer that question since this is a particularly challenging time for boutique PR firms and sole practitioners who work with small-to-midsize companies that must sell their goods and services daily or face the threat of going out of business.
The easy response would be to wait until after the “new normal” kicks in. But that would be lazy. Plus, at this point, no one seems to know when that might be in the future. Our clients deserve our counsel, whether it’s popular or not.
Since none of us has experienced times like these before, here are some things to consider before launching a new PR campaign. If you have doubts regarding any of these points, then you might be doing yourself, your clients and the media a favor by waiting.
- Consider the value. Does the client’s product or service provide something that people need during this turbulent time? Its value must be obvious and easily accepted, not forced.
- Think about the outcome. Would the PR campaign meet the test of informing rather than selling, or would it come across as exploitative and insensitive? There’s a fine line between adding to the conversation and trying to take advantage of it.
- Set client expectations at the start of the project. Make clear that, in this era of continually changing news and events, there might not be enough room in the media cycle for broad coverage of a product launch. Be honest and realistic.
- Target your media outreach. Rather than blast the same press release to hundreds of journalists, take the time to customize your pitches based on the outlet, reporter, producer and what’s happening in the world, or even in their own neighborhoods.
- Remember that our media colleagues are going through these trying times themselves. Their lives, like many of ours, have been upended by work-from-home directives. They might be trying to manage child care, an out-of-control Slack feed and conference calls — all while trying to meet deadlines. Keep pitches tight and on topic, and work to serve reporters’ needs.
Over a nearly five-decade career, I’ve seen the highs and lows of our profession, and of our society. Sometimes, like now, they’re inextricably linked. But the traits that allow PR professionals to not only survive but also thrive in uncertain times remain unchanged. In fact, those qualities of diligence, honesty and integrity have never been more important than they are now. By embodying those traits, you will not only serve your clients and media colleagues but also yourself — over the short and long terms.
As PR pros during this moment in history, we need to ask ourselves whether we’re comfortable with the products and services we’re representing and whether they have realistic chances for success — and then listen to our gut instincts. Because when all is said and done, this is where we earn our fees, the respect of the media and, ultimately, our clients.
Over a nearly 50-year career, Dick Grove has managed the gamut of business and consumer communications. He’s served in the marketing communications C-suite with companies such as Itel Corp., GE Capital and IT&T, and as a vice president with industry powerhouse Burson-Marsteller. In 1997, the Kansas City-based Grove launched INK Inc. Public Relations, notable for being among the first to utilize a “virtual” PR team.
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