COVID-19 has brought many PR agencies to their knees. While I believe it’s the biggest mistake a company could make during a crisis like this, I’ve seen many organizations decide to bow out of PR as a result of cutting back expenses. That may initially seem wise, but it can ultimately cost companies more in time spent rebuilding their PR and marketing efforts down the road. In the meantime, their competition has stepped in to take their place.
While many PR agencies have struggled under the current conditions, some have thrived. And there is one main reason: diversification.
While agencies are far from out of the woods, it has become clear that diversification in all sectors and all industries has not only kept some agencies alive, but has made them very successful. Who needs PR during COVID-19? Not just food banks. Not just hospitals. Every business and organization needs PR right now, in different ways.
We as PR professionals simply need to help all our clients understand that they can still maximize PR and get their messages out to the public — with the right approach. The following are five examples of how PR agencies can survive and thrive during a crisis such as COVID-19:
Don’t limit your practice area to a few industries
Don’t listen to popular advice to only focus on a handful of industries. While this may initially sound appealing, it could not be more counterproductive. When you diversify, you not only have more clients, but you have more angles to pitch, a wider variety of media to reach and more relationships to be cultivated. Why limit yourself when you have the expertise, teamwork and relationships that you need?
In today’s interconnected world, many industries ― and company objectives ― can bleed into each other. Is it a cosmetics company that does great things in the green/vegan space, or an environmentally friendly company that happens to make great cosmetics? Often, there are more common denominators between industries than initially meet the eye, making the expansion to other practice areas less intimidating and more manageable than you may think.
Cultivate a personal connection to your clients
Your clients are not only your business partners; they are your family. Treat them as such. During times like these (and all the time), they want to know that you care and that you will be there for them through anything. Listen to their concerns, and anticipate their obstacles through their eyes. Let them know you understand. And work like crazy to do everything you can to help them through this crisis.
At the start of the relationship, it should be established that you are serving as an extension of their team and that you should be thought of as filling a PR leadership role within the company. You are vested in their success and take responsibility for creating and implementing a strategy that has their best interests in mind.
Be available 24/7
COVID-19 has guaranteed that in the PR industry, weekends and evenings are not times for play ― they are times to be available for your clients. Always answer that call or email; always respond quickly. Showing your clients that you are ready for them anytime, day or night, gives them a sense of security. PR never stops, and that’s especially true if you want to be successful and remembered after all of this is over.
We know from crisis situations that news can continue to break around the clock and that objectives can shift quickly. We also know that a lot can happen between 5 p.m. on Friday and 9 a.m. on Monday. Anticipate this, and be prepared.
Pivot as necessary
Be ready, willing and bold enough to pivot whenever, however and wherever you need. Things can change in a minute, and you have to be ready to adjust. Whether it’s a food distribution that changed from Monday at the local community center to Wednesday at the church across town, a law firm that has shifted its philanthropic efforts to helping those who have lost their homes, or a closed hotel that is welcoming first responders to stay for free, always be available to change your efforts at a moment’s notice.
For PR specifically, understanding the process of how media operates comes into play here as well. Through close relationships with the press, savvy agencies know that journalists can straddle multiple beats and even pick up new ones during a crisis since resources and staffing can be limited. Having working relationships with the growing number of freelancers and contributing writers can help you successfully identify story opportunities and other avenues that deliver results during a time of scarcity.
Staying afloat during a time of crisis requires you to plan ahead. How do PR agencies know when crises are coming? It’s in their DNA. The success of any agency hinges on its preparedness and knowing that crises can happen. There is a good reason it’s called “the calm before the storm.” A wise agency will determine what actions can be mapped to consider best-case, realistic-case and worst-case scenarios. A good agency will consistently monitor its own vitals to gauge how to take further actions to keep the business going. Having a plan A, B and C is just part of being diversified.
Diversification is a natural progression in today’s global business community. Those who embrace and practice this concept are setting themselves up for success. As the world continues to present more and more uncertainty, diversification for PR agencies is a smart business practice you can bank on.
Durée Ross is President & CEO at Durée & Company, Inc. specializing in results-driven PR, marketing and special events.