Group Gordon’s James Seaton breaks down how small businesses should rethink their communications approach in response to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
It is a trying time for small businesses: Roughly between 66,000 to more than 100,000 small businesses in the US have closed since the onset of the pandemic, and others, struggling to stay alive, are scrambling to find solutions. In such a difficult time, financial resources such as loans through the Paycheck Protection Program, grants through federal, state, and local government, and community relief funds like the Bronx Community Relief Effort, are keeping many businesses afloat.
However, this is also a crucial time for businesses to assess their public relations strategy. Right now, the media is consumed by the pandemic, making it harder for many businesses to break through. But public relations is more than just getting your company in a headline – it’s about managing all of your internal and external communications to strengthen internal culture, brand equity, and engagement among key stakeholders, including customers, employees, investors, and others closely connected to your business. By shifting your PR strategy, you can create new opportunities to strengthen your business and pave the way for growth in and after this economic downturn. Here are 3 ways you can adjust your PR strategy during the pandemic:
Strengthen internal communications
Now is a good time to take a fresh look at how you communicate with the real MVPs who propel your business forward: employees. Make sure you have the processes and tools in place to keep your team engaged so that your people aren’t guessing where they stand or what the company stands for. While it’s critical to be honest with your employees about how the pandemic has affected the business, make sure you’re also sharing a clear vision of your values and culture. Reaffirm the immense value workers have in your organization, express your appreciation for their efforts, and pledge your commitment to their safety and success. Try holding monthly virtual meetings to gauge which issues matter most to your employees and develop internal initiatives that illustrate to them a clear show of solidarity, support, and action. Missions, goals, and values hold companies and their people together; strengthening communication with employees will ensure your team feels informed, engaged, and valued.
Embrace the shift to digital
How businesses market their products and services has been shifting since long before the pandemic hit, especially as the world becomes more digital. You must adapt to this changing environment in order to sustain your business. Assess the ways in which you can expand your virtual presence – maybe you haven’t looked into all relevant social media platforms that reach your audience base or explored webinars as a viable means to hold exciting, brand-building events. For example, when the pandemic first hit, Sam Clark, co-owner and manager of Necker’s Toyland, a toy store in Simsbury, Connecticut that’s been in business since 1948, started offering kids and their parents appointments via FaceTime to explore sections of the store that piqued the child’s interests.
Customers are looking for new ways to engage with brands, and the right social media campaign or online event could increase awareness and positive associations with your business.
Find strength in numbers
Small businesses often don’t have the influence or reach of big companies or chains. Strategic partnerships – with other businesses in a similar or complementary field, influencers, or local leaders, for example – can help small businesses increase their power. Small businesses in Youngstown, Ohio recently came together for an African American Business Mixer to connect, exchange resources, and purchase each other’s products. In a time in which COVID has closed 41% of black businesses, this was a powerful show of mutual support. Show your values by taking a public stance on a social justice issue and working with local organizers to support advocacy efforts – you’ll bring greater visibility to your company and the causes it supports. Building diverse relationships and connections can potentially open your business up to exciting collaborations now and in the future.
During this challenging time, small business owners must exhaust all of their options and resources to push their business forward. PR and communications, both internal and external, must be a central part of your organization’s strategy. Together with smart financial moves, a strong PR strategy incorporating clear internal communications, creative adaptations to the increasingly digital world, and innovative partnerships will take your business to the next level.