Creatively Adapting to Our New Normal

October 2020
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According to a recent study, consumers are three times more likely to have a favorable impression of the industry I work in — cable and broadband — after the pandemic.

The implication is that the favorability ranking has improved as a result of actions taken during the pandemic. Some of that favorability is due to the industry’s work to strengthen broadband networks, ensuring that they perform well during the pandemic and heighten broadband usage. Beyond the technology, the other major factor adding to the favorability rating is our PR response. 

In general, crisis situations become intensified proving grounds for our PR skills, opportunities for us to shine during difficult times. Crisis management has always been the crescendo in the natural orchestration of our work. That’s certainly been the case during the coronavirus pandemic. But beyond putting our skills to the test, could COVID-19 provide valuable lessons for the PR profession and the tenets we preach? 

James Allen, director at the consulting firm Bain & Company and a leading adviser to CEOs, says big businesses are examining the lessons they’ve learned during the pandemic. Amid the turmoil, companies have quickly adapted to operate in this new world of office closures, no-contact customer assistance and unprecedented reliance on technology. 

The pandemic has ushered in new and agile ways of thinking. Businesses are now capturing lessons learned and resolving not to snap back to their former ways of doing things once normalcy returns. Within this notion of not snapping back are positive implications for our function as PR professionals.

Consistent corporate social responsibility

The coronavirus pandemic has put corporate social responsibility front and center. How companies choose to respond during this time of need will likely define them now and long after the virus has passed. Among other demonstrations of their social responsibility, companies are stepping up by supporting food banks and converting their production facilities to produce masks and other personal-protective equipment, and disinfectants.

At my company, Cox Communications, a leading provider of cable and broadband services, we were already committed to kids and education. And now, by enhancing our program to provide internet access to low-income customers by offering free connections to students during the crisis, we’ve found an authentic way to help.

Given the emphasis the pandemic has placed on corporate responsibilities to society, many companies are flexing social-responsibility muscles they didn’t even know they had — and may experience higher favorability ratings as a result. This is a win for communities and for PR people everywhere. 

Better internal communications

As coronavirus swirls around corporate America, employee communicators stand in the eye of the storm. They’ve helped instruct thousands of employees to leave their offices, to work from home, to adopt no-contact customer-care procedures — and perhaps, to return to their offices.

Companies with well-crafted internal-communications plans, tools and platforms — and with regular, two-way employee dialogues — are navigating the COVID storm better than those that treat such communications as an afterthought. 

Throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen cringe-worthy examples of companies whose communications with their employees have fallen short. In some cases, employees have responded to this lack of communication by protesting their own companies online, in-person and in the news media. They’ve felt uncertain about their safety at work or undercompensated given the risk of doing their jobs during a pandemic.

Communication with employees won’t entirely solve these issues, but regular and transparent communication helps ensure their concerns are heard and responded to before they feel the need to complain externally, such as on the employment site 

For employers, coronavirus has served as a sometimes painful reminder of this reality, underscoring the need for regular business-continuity planning, investment in employee intranet portals and commitment from top brass to regularly engage employees.

Greater agility

To manage the coronavirus pandemic, companies are thinking bigger, moving more quickly and finding new ways to get things done despite the challenges. This agile thinking is extending to the PR function, too.

It’s hard to imagine going back to traditional media, trade, employee, community and press events any time soon. For months, we’ve gone without these tools of our trade, and their absence has forced us to innovate.

Before the pandemic, a staple tactic in my team’s product-press arsenal was a series of Smart Home and Business events held throughout the country that featured our latest cable and broadband technology. At these events, small model homes or business incubators with lots of touchable, interactive technology overflowed with local reporters, civic leaders and government officials. 

While we won’t be holding such events for the foreseeable future, the good news is that we’re landing coverage on social and traditional media of how broadband connections can help people during the pandemic through telemedicine, distance learning, no-contact customer care, and even online dating.

We’ve teamed up with our marketing department to create a brand program called “One Call a Day,” which connects employees with isolated senior citizens via daily, heartwarming telephone chats. The program has given our employees a way to safely channel their desire to volunteer during the lockdown while also boosting brand trust among our customers. 

As keen observers of the world around us, PR people are finding creative ways to adapt our services to the new normal. Let’s embrace our elevated role of communications during the crisis and take lessons from it that we can carry into the future.

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