Thought leadership is a key element of many companies’ PR strategies, but what should you consider when sharing your expertise during the COVID-19 pandemic?
While coronavirus has presented businesses with huge challenges, it may also be an opportunity to communicate in a new way. At DCA, for example, many of our professional services clients have the knowledge to help people make sense of some of the issues they are facing in this strange and difficult situation.
And while there is clearly a commercial benefit to putting your company in the spotlight, if you have the relevant expertise you may feel a moral responsibility to do your bit to guide people through these challenging times.
Here are six considerations when sharing your professional expertise during the COVID-19 pandemic.
1. Consider all the possible channels
Here at DCA, we always seek to make any content we produce work as hard as possible by adapting it for a range of digital and traditional media channels. This is especially relevant during the pandemic. Media consumption has changed since the lockdown was imposed and many companies are communicating with their customers and stakeholders in new ways, for example by running webinars and releasing video blogs for the first time.
So, if you write a piece responding to a particular development during the pandemic, consider how it could be published or promoted across different online and social media platforms. While digital media is a focus for much of the communication around the COVID-19 crisis, traditional media continues to look for good content and may want to share your thoughts with its readers. Your blog may have the potential to be adapted into a comment piece for relevant media outlets, for example, or you could record some audio to offer to radio contacts.
2. Keep the message simple
Whether you have insights on the science, economic, legal or social aspects of the pandemic, it is likely that you can bring deep technical knowledge to the current situation. You know more about the topic than the vast majority of people, that’s why you’re commenting on it after all.
Writing a piece, speaking to customers on a webinar or giving a media interview is not an opportunity to demonstrate how much you know. Instead, focus on one or two key points and make them as easy as possible for people to understand. Anecdotal or real life examples, such as describing some of your customers’ experiences, will really help to bring your points to life and demonstrate the relevance.
To avoid cramming in too much, it may be beneficial to break down updates into different pieces. This will allow you to focus more on each separate point, which is a better approach to take when producing SEO-optimised content. It will also allow you to develop a regular pipeline of useful and relevant content, rather than using all your messages up in one piece. Your PR team should advise you on how to focus your messages to get best mileage out of your content.
3. Find your own angle
A Google search for ‘Coronavirus uk’ just now has delivered seven billion results. As the situation develops, a wealth of new content is being published on coronavirus and related topics. A search today for ‘furlough’ produced 27,000,000 results, for example.
The challenge is to find your own angle rather than simply adding to the noise. Focusing on a particular geographical area or your customers’ industry sector or demographic makes sense for a number of reasons. An article outlining the details of the Job Retention Scheme will have no chance of competing against news and Government websites in searches. A piece that focuses on the impact on the agricultural sector in Cornwall and contains the right key words, for example, is likely to perform far better in SEO terms.
Trade, local and regional journalists are also much more likely to be interested in your take on the pandemic if you make it relevant to their readers, viewers or listeners.
It all comes down to being clear on your company’s target audience and tailoring your content so it speaks directly to them.
4. It’s OK not to have all the answers
This is an evolving situation and no-one knows how it will end. Avoid speculation. No reasonable person should expect you to have all the answers so remember that it’s OK to say you don’t know.
While our clients are focusing on adapting during the coming weeks and months, they are also looking beyond COVID-19. Being as open as possible (and not being afraid to admit it when you don’t have an answer) will help build trust between you and your customers, both during the crisis and for the future.
5. Be adaptable for media interviews
The impact of the pandemic is extraordinary and we’ve all had to make huge changes to adapt to social distancing measures. This includes the way in which the media operates. In recent weeks, our clients have given TV interviews on platforms like Skype and Facetime and we have been supplying radio stations with audio content that our clients have recorded on their phones.
Even if you have a wealth of media experience, being interviewed down the line and not being able to see your interviewer can be disconcerting. Having some media training, or a dry run ahead of the real thing, can really help. Ensure you are familiar with whichever platform you’re using so you can focus on your messages without worrying about the technology.
6. Be a compassionate thought leader
The pandemic is affecting everyone differently so it is challenging to find the right tone of voice when commenting on the developing situation. While some businesses are adapting well and even thriving, others are in crisis mode. Some individuals are enjoying having more time to spend at home and a slower pace of life, whereas others are dealing with grief, battling anxiety or facing financial stress.
While it is important to get new content out in a timely manner, especially if it relates to emerging developments, don’t rush. Consider how your content could be interpreted by people in particularly challenging situations and how it reflects on your brand. Being seen as ‘tone deaf’ during the coronavirus crisis could seriously damage both your individual and company’s reputation. On the other hand, conveying compassion along with knowledge and expertise could help strengthen relationships with your customers. It goes without saying that anything that sounds ‘salesy’ will come across as especially insensitive at this time.
While you, as the expert, are best placed to ensure the technical aspects of the content are accurate, the tone of your article is equally important. Having an experienced communications team you can trust will help you get the balance right.