Covid-19: A pragmatic, proactive and positive response through PR
Written by Suzanne Howe Communications Senior Consultant Bill Bruce
Few of us will ever forget March 2020 as the month that almost everything we thought we knew about the world and business changed substantially, and possibly forever. The Coronavirus ‘crisis’ grew so rapidly that the background news agenda changed from Brexit to Covid-19, almost overnight. All of the Suzanne Howe Communications (SHC) team quickly realised that we needed to respond to the challenge, so we could continue to support our clients and the media.
“We quickly agreed to hold our own ‘Cobra’ meeting – using Teams, of course, to discuss and agree a strategy,” said SHC founder Suzanne Howe.
“With multiple clients in our three key sectors, cleaning & FM, packaging and food, it was clear that we needed to fully understand the impact the developing crisis was having on each of them. Within days we had called and held meetings with each client and were able to gauge how each was coping, and the detailed changes they were experiencing. At the same time, we began talking to the media to discover how the crisis had affected their planned content and to offer help as required – and increase the amount of relevant and positive content for readers with more time to browse. One publisher said they had seen a 30% increase in views since lockdown.”
SHC’s proactive, yet sympathetic approach was – and remains – appreciated by its clients. A handful decided to step back for a few months while they evaluated and reviewed their business models, but the majority were grateful for the support and saw the need to continue with positive PR.
As a result, SHC has been able to develop new and relevant content which has resulted in significant coverage. “We also continue to ‘meet’ out clients on a regular basis, evaluating how this fluid situation is developing and adjusting our messages and communications as required,” said Suzanne.
Almost everyone agreed that the biggest single challenge was not knowing how long the current crisis and its trading restrictions would last. In terms of the usual industry routines, all events have been cancelled or postponed and magazines are focusing more on their digital output and better reaching those who are now working from home.
Cleaning and FM
In the cleaning and facilities management sectors, the effects of Covid-19 are profound. Some premises may not reopen as companies continue to sanction working from home long after the crisis has ended. The more common use of virtual meetings and the costs of maintaining premises when business continues to perform with staff working remotely will lead to a review. Those premises will need a deep clean though. The rapid and efficient reinvention of ExCel as NHS Nightingale is an uplifting story which puts a positive focus on the FM sector.
Meanwhile, a heightened awareness around hygiene, cleanliness and well-being will be one of the lasting and positive legacies of this unprecedented time.
The shift to contact-free home deliveries and feeding the healthcare sector and other key workers has created new opportunities for the foodservice packaging sector.
As one of our clients said: “The foodservice industry has always been quick to adapt to changes in the marketplace. The speed with which businesses have responded to the current crisis is genuinely impressive. Many food and drink outlets have used their ingenuity to remain operational during this difficult time by introducing ‘contact-free’ home delivery for those members of the public who are now working from home or need to self-isolate.
“Disposable food packaging is key to ensuring these delivery systems work. Indeed, safe, secure and hygienic food packaging will play a key role throughout the coronavirus crisis.”
Facing change with a positive attitude
“SHC’s positive attitude and pro-active approach has received a great response from clients and the media alike, but we have had to recognise the realities of the current pressures and the long-term changes that might result,” said Suzanne.
“In talking to our clients, we realise the immediate concerns for businesses are: cashflow; falling customer numbers; workforce retention; supply chain disruption; and long-term viability.”
Independently, SHC has also assessed that some things may change for ever:
- Cash, already under pressure from contactless, will perhaps vanish;
- The high street, which was already under pressure from high rentals and reduced footfall, with change beyond recognition, and;
- Home delivery will increase.
- Home delivery of food, already gaining ground, will become more of an embedded habit and will grow, supported by an increased use of apps;
- More people will work from home, reducing traffic on the roads and making offices less important – which will have a lasting effect on facilities management;
- Meetings will become mostly virtual;
- The British public will improve its hygiene standards and finally learn the importance of adequate hand washing (and drying).
SHC considers there will also be considerable change in the media:
- Printed media, already under pressure from falling subscription revenues and environmental sustainability aspects, will see more and more printed titles turn to a digital-only model;
- Traditional PR will increasingly be supported with more and better targeted social media;
- Advertising will change as digital and social media platforms take over.
From sustainability to endurance
“While the crisis persists, the focus on environmental sustainability will fade in favour of business endurance and durability, but in conversation with several or our customers we have been impressed that they have not wanted to drop their individual focus on sustainability issues,” said Suzanne.
“The other thing that has impressed us is people. Our own team at SHC has been amazing, each bringing their individual experience, skills and talents to deliver on our promises to our clients. And in talking to those clients, each stresses that in face of the unknown, their employees are behaving brilliantly.