I belong to several private groups for communications professionals on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Slack. In following the conversation strings, one can’t help but notice a palpable frustration by many practitioners that PR as a marketing communications discipline is DOA during the coronavirus crisis. This is mostly true, except for the brand-focused story angles that are supportive, not exploitive, of the tragic circumstances in which we now find ourselves.
Sure, many niche media beat reporters continue to report breaking, non-COVID related news, most noticeably in the entertainment arena, e.g., Quibi’s ramp up or Roku’s stock price, but most others require some tie to the reality on the ground. Even then, lifestyle-focused PR peeps need to tread lightly, as the journalist, author, and all-around astute observer of life Virginia Heffernan recently noted in a tweet:
I find I DESPISE all Covid lifestyle stuff — how to dress for Zoom, getting the most out of video yoga, when you're quarantined with an annoying person, etc.
But I still read them because I want to remember the more amused, hopeful person I used to be.
— Virginia Heffernan (@page88) April 16, 2020
One tool in the PR toolbox that is clearly flourishing during these harrowing times is internal communications. When prickly reporters disparage our industry, they mostly do so as a result of the inane and misguided story pitches that fill up their inboxes. Few recognize the value that an effective internal communications program has, especially during a crisis, or the serious problems that can result from a lack of one.
On the latter front, Variety today reports on how the staff of “The Ellen Degeneres Show” was left in the dark, even as Ms. DeGeneres proceeded to re-boot her program — without their involvement — at her home. In his exclusive piece “‘Ellen’ Crew Furious Over Poor Communication Regarding Pay, Non-Union Workers During Coronavirus Shutdown,” reporter Matt Donnelly learned:
For more than two weeks, from late March through April 9, crew members — from lighting to camera operators to grips — were left in the dark about if and how much they would be paid.
The lack of transparency continued as DeGeneres expanded her output from hosting four shows a week to five…
Radio silence from producers created anxiety among crew members who feared they would be furloughed…
At least Warner Bros. recognized its PR shortcomings:
A Warner Bros. spokesperson acknowledged that communication could have been better, but cited complications due to the chaos caused by COVID-19.
When thinking about which stakeholders need to know what and when during a crisis, most savvy C-Suiters put employees at the top of the list. This is especially true when workers’ lives literally can be placed in jeopardy without timely, concise, and accurate communication from management. Just consider Smithfield.