Check back daily for our latest coverage related to communications, PR and the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
April 3-4, 2020
The Census Breaks Through as the Shut-Down Remains Incomplete and Trump is Unmasked
by Seth Arenstein
It’s all-virus-all-the-time for some if not most communicators and audiences. Still, other important messages need to get through, despite the virus-related information overload.
For example, the US Census Bureau must communicate the need for Americans take part in the decade's first census, Census 2020. While the Bureau won’t have workers knocking on doors for a while, it has pivoted quickly. TV and radio ads for Census 2020 mention coronavirus as they urge Americans to fill out census forms online or by mail. In addition, the Bureau is sending text messages and email to Americans with the same ask.
The messaging is working. As of March 31, 35 percent of US households, about 50 million, have responded to the census. This means the self-reporting portion of the Census is roughly on track. The Bureau eventually hopes to hire and send staff into the field, virus permitting. They'd concentrate on what history show are the most difficult groups to count: English as a second language speakers, black men 18-29 and children younger than 5.
Battling Messages: Regular readers of PRNEWS’ coronavirus coverage have seen numerous references to the importance of consistent messaging during a health crisis. They also know we’ve railed against the inconsistent messaging from the White House that Americans are asked to decipher.
For example, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House virus task force’s most popular scientist, has been unambiguous in his insistence that distancing and shut-downs are effective in mitigating coronavirus’ spread. Asked April 2 about a nationwide shut-down, Fauci told CNN: "I just don't understand why we're not doing that. We really should be."
Still, the president refuses to urge the 9 states that are not shut to do so. A shut-down is a choice each state must make, the president said during the Saturday (April 4) briefing. He added, the 9 states are “not in jeopardy” from coronavirus.
In fact, though, there are at least 100 cases of the virus in each of the 9 states, according to CNN.
On Monday, April 6, Missouri will officially shut down. The remaining 8 are: South Carolina, Utah, Iowa, Arkansas, Nebraska, the Dakotas and Wyoming.
Mask Communication: To mask or not to mask is one of the virus's longest-running ambiguous messages. Initially, the federal government urged Americans not to wear masks. For the past two weeks, though, media reported that the CDC was reconsidering.
Late today, the CDC communicated. It recommended, but did not require, Americans cover their faces with cloth while in public places, such as markets and pharmacies. To be clear, the cloth coverings are not surgical masks or N-95 respirators. “Those are critical supplies that must continue to be reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders,” CDC said.
Confusing the message a bit more, the president told the nation during the Saturday (April 4) briefing he’s chosen not to wear a mask or a cloth covering his nose and mouth. “It’s [only] a recommendation,” he said.
First Lady Melania Trump tweeted April 3 in favor of masks/face coverings (see below).
As the weekend approaches I ask that everyone take social distancing & wearing a mask/face covering seriously. #COVID19 is a virus that can spread to anyone - we can stop this together.
— Melania Trump (@FLOTUS) April 3, 2020
The Doctor is In: Another theme emphasized in our coverage is the need for brand communicators to stay in their lane. For example, avoid providing health recommendations unless you’re a medical brand and you have doctors and scientists who can back-up your recommendations with facts.
The president has some of the world’s top scientific minds on his White House coronavirus task force. Still, the president insists on dispensing medical information.
For example, during Saturday’s briefing, Trump, with Dr. Fauci nearby, said of the drug hydroxychloroquine, “What do you have to lose? Take it…I really think [patients] should take it. But it’s their choice. And it’s their doctor’s choice or the doctors in the hospital. But hydroxychloroquine. Try it, if you’d like.”
Adding to the confusion, Dr. Fauci has said repeatedly that he needs more data about hydroxychloroquine before he will render a judgement about its effectiveness fighting or preventing COVID-19.
Bunny Business: The president mentioned during the briefing April 4 that the coming week would be a very bad one for deaths from COVID-19, the sickness resulting from coronavirus.
On the other hand, Trump also said he'd like his team to consider how Easter services could take place next Sunday, April 12. Easter services, he said, might be held outdoors in a large space, presumably allowing people to practice "great separation...It’s something we should talk about.”
The president spoke last month of wanting to have the country back to business by Easter. He later amended those remarks, saying they were "aspirational."
Virus-Related Unit for FleishmanHillard
by Seth Arenstein
FleishmanHillard said April 3 it will debut a cross-functional global practice to provide communication expertise to organizations as they deal with coronavirus. The practice will help companies plan their return to operations as well as adapt to “a dramatically shifting business and social environment,” it said April 3. With clients and offices globally, FleishmanHillard says some companies are nearly ready to transition back to business. Other clients are preparing to reach the pandemic's peak.
“Recovery is going to be a process, not an event, and not a linear process in most places,” said Peter Verrengia, president and senior partner of the firm’s Communications Consulting Worldwide practice. Verrengia will lead the new Recovery and Resurgence practice.
“The most successful organizations," Verrengia said, "will not stop at planning to rebuild. They will focus on resurgence in an environment that is going to look very different across industries and geographies during the remainder of this year and into 2022.”
He continued, “All successful crisis recoveries share one characteristic. The seeds of recovery start at the earliest stages of crisis response.” Business leaders need to allocate resources “now to look ahead to multiple recovery and resurgence scenarios,” he added.
The Reputation Fallout of Navy's Firing Crozier
by Seth Arenstein
With so many of us homebound, consuming news the way we used to scarf Starbucks, there might not be a worse time to do something that could harm your reputation. Yesterday, acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly fired Captain Brett Crozier, commander of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, one of 11 US aircraft carriers.
With personnel testing positive for the virus, Crozier wrote a letter to Navy leaders March 30 urging the service to remove the majority of sailors from the carrier. “We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die,” Crozier wrote. As we write, reports said 140 personnel aboard the carrier tested positive for the virus. A carrier typically carries about 4,000 personnel. A carrier's close, dank confines might be the virus's best friend. They make distancing and quarantining impossible.
The San Francisco Chronicle published Crozier's letter March 31. The issue lingered for several days before Crozier was let go April 2.
Modly fired Crozier because the Navy no longer trusted the captain's judgement. Instead of writing the letter and CC-ing several parties, Crozier should have contacted Modly directly, the Navy said. The letter constituted a break in the chain of command. In addition, it was sent via nonsecure unclassified email
Reluctant to admit any issue with his administration's response to coronavirus, President Trump, the commander in chief, denied that Crozier was fired for attempting to protect sailors. "I don't see it that way at all," Trump said in response to a reporter's question yesterday.
[Update: Saturday, 6pm, ET, April 4, 2020: During today's press briefing, the president said: "I thought it was terrible what he did. This isn't a class on literature...the letter was all over the place. That's not appropriate."]
[Update: Sunday, 3pm ET, April 5, 2020: Captain Crozier has tested positive.]
The Navy claims it was addressing safety issues aboard the carrier prior to receiving Crozier's letter.
The question for PR pros is whether the perception that the Navy has little regard for its sailors’ safety will prove harmful. Might this incident damage the Navy's reputation? Or the reputations of Modly, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and the Trump administration?
What about recruiting? Will parents be reluctant to urge their children to consider the Navy as a career?
“As a parent, it would certainly influence what I'd suggest to my kid,” says Dr. Matthew Schmidt, who teaches national security at the Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Sciences at the University of New Haven.
Adds Michael Cherenson, EVP, Success Communications Group and former PRSA chair, "I’m confident that the Navy’s very skilled public affairs team understands the significant reputation risk."
For Schmidt, the firing challenges the military mantra 'People First. Mission Always.' The mantra emphasizes that a commander's first responsibility is to take care of his people, though the mission is critical. It's “this bond of care from officers to enlisted personnel that creates a team willing to sacrifice for the mission,” Schmidt says.
‘People First’ is not merely a slogan, Schmidt argues. “It is the core necessity for achieving mission success.”
For Cherenson, the Crozier firing, matched with the Eddie Gallagher episode, "certainly puts the Navy’s ethos of integrity, respect for others and decisive leadership under a bright spotlight." The Navy’s reputation, he says, is based, in-part, on its ability to live up to standards it sets for itself.
He adds, though, "the important chain of command and exposure-to-the enemy issues cannot be dismissed."
What about Captain Crozier? "My hunch," Cherenson says, "is [he] understood the potential risk to his career and still spoke truth to power. He acted in support of others."
Videos show throngs of sailors ignoring distancing, chanting "Captain, Crozier, Captain Crozier, as the captain left the carrier. "If the videos are any indication, the ultimate risk to the Navy may be that sailors and marines have lost faith in their leadership," Cherenson says.
Adds Parnell, "The reaction of the crew says it all – even the escort team waiting onshore to take him away saluted him as he approached."
The videos received wide coverage on social media and television Friday.
Both the Senate and the Navy will investigate the Crozier firing. The Navy's investigation will determine whether or not Crozier will face disciplinary action. The Navy is set to reassign Crozier.
April 2, 2020
by Nicole Schuman
You head outside for a run. Your son works as a cashier at the grocery store. You need to take a trip to the pharmacy. You wonder, is a mask necessary?
The messaging surrounding mask usage to prevent coronavirus has been confusing from the get-go. Back in February the U.S. Surgeon General tweeted that masks could not prevent further transmission in an effort to prevent shortages for healthcare workers.
Seriously people- STOP BUYING MASKS!
They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!
— U.S. Surgeon General (@Surgeon_General) February 29, 2020
Now, as of yesterday, April 1, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is considering recommending everyone, even those who are healthy, to wear a mask when outside the home to protect themselves. According to The New York Times, the director of the CDC, Dr. Robert Redfield, confirmed the agency was reviewing its guidelines in an interview with WABE in Atlanta.
Citing new data that shows high rates of transmission from people who are infected but show no symptoms, he said the guidance on mask wearing was “being critically re-reviewed, to see if there’s potential additional value for individuals that are infected or individuals that may be asymptomatically infected."
It's very difficult for communicators, particularly in the health care industry, to distribute necessary information to a questioning public when the staples of government information cannot seem to agree on the right path to take. Particularly during a new and untested virus. A flood of doctors are appearing on network and cable news talk shows, dispensing conflicting information, because the tried and tested data is just not yet there. For communicators, handling factual ambiguity can be a true challenge.
Just the Facts
In light of this confusion, it seems like a good time to acknowledge that today (April 2) is National Fact-checking Day. Within a health care crisis, proven, factual information is needed more than ever. And many news outlets are doing their part to take these critical statements and discover what classifies as truth, and what needs to be forgotten. For public relations professionals, checking and double-checking their facts with trusted experts, before sending out information to users or constituents, is a good practice to follow.
A good resource to follow includes The Poynter Institute's website called Politifact. Politifact holds talking heads accountable by grading quotes in television interviews and news articles, as well as social media posts on a scale from "True" to "Half True" to "Pants on Fire." This can help when trying to wade through the sea of information emerging on coronavirus.
CNN also employs a fact-checking team for a series called "Facts First" which analyzes press conferences, briefings and interviews of elected officials and candidates. The most recent article shows President Trump's misleading claims regarding the ventilator shortage.
So...About those masks?
We, at PRNEWS, are not a trustworthy medical institution, so we have about the same amount of information as you regarding mask usage. Our advice is to continue to monitor statements from the CDC, and to disburse information directly from that source.
The current CDC guidelines say:
“If you are sick: You should wear a face mask, if available, when you are around other people (including before you enter a health care provider’s office). If you are caring for others: If the person who is sick is not able to wear a face mask (for example, because it causes trouble breathing), then as their caregiver, you should wear a face mask when in the same room with them. Visitors, other than caregivers, are not recommended.
“Note: During a public health emergency, face masks may be reserved for health care workers. You may need to improvise a face mask using a scarf or bandana.”
Stay well, and always check your facts.
April 1, 2020
A (Cautionary) Tale of Two Brothers
by Sophie Maerowitz
CNN news anchor Chris Cuomo revealed a COVID diagnosis March 31, posting the update to Twitter and noting concern for his family ahead of his own health. "I am quarantined in my basement (which actually makes the rest of the family seem pleased!)" he wrote.
Despite symptoms ("chills, fever, shortness of breath") and the audio/video quality challenges that stem from broadcasting from his basement, Cuomo has continued to work.
Last night Cuomo was choked up as he interviewed and thanked a Georgia nurse, who, like many healthcare workers, has begun referring to the virus as "The Beast." Wiping his tearstained face following the interview, Cuomo said, "I can touch my face, I’m already sick," warning viewers to "think about what they can do to make that less likely to happen."
“With me being so young I didn’t ever think that I would see this amount of deaths all at one time,” a critical care nurse at a hard hit hospital in Georgia tells @chriscuomo in an emotional interview. “I don’t know how to explain the feelings that I have for it.” pic.twitter.com/TGPdHQ83Lb
— Cuomo Prime Time (@CuomoPrimeTime) April 1, 2020
"The curve is gonna get steeper," Cuomo said, echoing language his elder brother, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, used during his now-legendary daily press conferences.
While many communications pros may roll their eyes when they read the word "authenticity," there isn’t really a more fitting word to describe the quality both Cuomos have exhibited in recent days as they put family dynamics at the forefront of their messaging.
Case in point: Gov. Cuomo brought his daughter Michaela to join his March 19 press conference (his "Words Matter" mantra that day may be of interest to PR pros) as he urged young people to stop partying during spring break. The Governor also christened a measure restricting movement for vulnerable populations, including those 70 and older, "Matilda’s Law"—named for his mother.
While it may have come off as a scold, particularly to younger audiences, openly sharing discussions he’d had with his daughter showed audiences a different angle of the politician, long perceived as a "control freak" and "bully," according to Ben Smith's complimentary New York Times op-ed.
Indeed, Gov. Cuomo has seen several media accolades recently, prompting a “Will Cuomo Run for President?” narrative.
The positive press has quieted the counter-narrative around New York’s budgeting process. The Governor has continued to push for $2.5 billion in Medicaid cuts and creating a task force to find ways to slash funding despite the state’s overburdened hospital system.
Amid the crisis, both brothers are, intentionally or not, bringing levity to fatigued audiences. When Chris pressed his brother on the presidency question, ("Tell the audience!") Gov. Cuomo played the humble hero: "No. No." And despite the startling nature of Chris Cuomo’s diagnosis, audiences have enjoyed watching the brothers spar on national television.
I don't know why but I could watch this forever.pic.twitter.com/utRawEFP55
— Brian Tyler Cohen (@briantylercohen) March 31, 2020
The elder Cuomo called Chris "meatball" as the two traded jabs, with Chris pointing to Andrew’s "ill-fitting jacket."
The Takeaway: As the Cuomos, and other public figures, have demonstrated, COVID—if it's not done so already—will probably hit your family and friends. Hard.
Invoking family values in politics is not new. But sharing the fractures and imperfections present in every family (including brotherly rivalries) is relatable, dare we say enjoyable—to audiences cooped up with their own families and loved ones.
These unfiltered moments have the potential to go much further than staid and tired "with an abundance of caution" or "hopes and prayers" messaging.
Surveying the Damage
by Sophie Maerowitz
While in a holding pattern, some organizations are pivoting from content production to information gathering. It’s a smart move, given consumers are less likely to respond to being pitched on a product that doesn’t fulfill a basic quarantine need (health care, food, supplies, entertainment, etc.). In addition, conducting a survey generally is a low-cost effort that provides audiences with useful information while illustrating up-to-date knowledge of a given industry.
Some survey highlights:
WalletHub, a credit reporting site, polled more than 200 small business owners. With information overload at an all-time high, concision and clarity are paramount. WalletHub’s release centers on a simple infographic. In addition, bullet points that follow (crucial for alt-text/SEO purposes) are effective. The publisher is clear about sample size and methods, noting the timeframe of the survey (March 25-27). It also states, “After all responses were collected, we normalized the data by age, gender and income so the sample would reflect U.S. demographics.”
Not surprisingly, 87 percent of small business owners say their businesses are "hurting" from the virus. 68 percent think "the government is not doing enough to help" them now. On the other hand, 79 percent say "minimizing COVID deaths is more important than re-opening the economy."
Global research firm Gartner ran a March 20 survey of 176 CMOs that found 65 percent are bracing for budget cuts. In a release announcing key findings (also pitched to, and covered by trade publication Marketing Dive), Gartner’s Marketing arm connected the results to other recent findings. That move showed its advisory chops and shared an actionable tip: form an internal “tiger team” of marketers to optimize costs as pre-COVID business plans are scrapped. Gartner’s press release and subsequent coverage should cue PR pros to focus pitching on trades, as opposed to consumer-facing pubs.
Podcasting listenership has dipped, according to podcast usage analytics company Podtrac. With daily news podcasts a staple of commutes, those working from home are turning to more traditional news outlets (including cable TV), writes Digital News Daily’s Karlene Lukovitz. True crime podcasts are down 30 percent; perhaps that audience is streaming (per Nielsen, video streaming jumped 85 percent in March).
Firms that invested in surveys before the outbreak may be struggling to release information in a way that feels relevant. A new Manifest SEO guide makes use of survey data from 500 small businesses as it prevails on those businesses to invest in SEO. The COVID-oriented opening is a little clunky, and the “About the Survey” paragraph might lend more credence to survey data if it were closer to the top of the page.
However, the guide provides useful information; SEO is a major concern as COVID results gobble up SERP real estate. While pitching pre-COVID surveys may feel strange, honing in on the usefulness of those results to your audience in the current crisis could be pivotal to securing coverage. If they’re not useful now–and be sure to reflect on that before hitting “send”—then it’s probably best to shelve results for an evergreen story down the line.
by Sophie Maerowitz
As the nation braces for what is likely to be a grim several weeks, social media feeds are intentionally devoid of the usual April Fools' Day wit. Google CMO Lorraine Twohill sent an internal email warning staffers not to joke around this year and encouraging managers to “suss out” any such efforts, despite Google’s two-decade reputation for internet-wide pranks, Business Insider and Lifewire report.
In the world of social good initiatives, T-Mobile, forgoing its usual antics from impish now-former CEO John Legere, announced a #GiveThanksNotPranks effort donating a dollar to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America for those that thank a healthcare worker or other helper on Twitter, use the hashtag and tag the brand (up to $200,000), as well as matching $5 gifts through a special text line, up to $300,000.
Even trades are getting into the un-spirit. Marketing Dive laid out instructions for contributing to the T-Mobile donation effort, while noting that countries from India to Thailand are threatening legal enforcement against those that make April Fool’s jokes about the virus. And, under the headline, "OPINION: WHAT MARKETERS SHOULD DO FOR APRIL FOOLS’ DAY THIS YEAR," Ad Age’s staff wrote likely the shortest op-ed in the history of op-eds: "Nothing."
In tone-deaf pitching news, Buzzfeed’s Julia Reinstein was not having it.
i regret to inform you all i am getting pitches from brands about their April Fools Day pranks
— julia reinstein 🚡 (@juliareinstein) March 31, 2020
USA Today provided a light history of the pranking tradition, while warning readers to steer clear of practical jokes today. Meanwhile, Twitter facilitated a social contract among social media users to steer clear.
DC Mayor, UNH, Ryan Reynolds Cleverly Cut Through Clutter
by Seth Arenstein
With so many brands and organizations over-communicating, there’s more noise than usual. Cutting through is that much harder. So, props to U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson who snail-mailed a 500-word letter to 30 million British households with a straightforward message: Please stay home (see March 30 update below).
The letter obviates the chance that Brits might miss his message on social (or that they skipped a TV news conference to stream “Tiger King”).
Another politico communicating low-tech but effectively is Washington, D.C., mayor Muriel Bowser. This morning, District residents and non-residents who work in D.C. received a pre-recorded phone call from the Democrat. On the recording, Bowser urges the recipient to stay home, stating that those gathering on D.C. streets in large numbers could get hit with costly fines. It’s a clever pivot. Initially, D.C. police were patrolling streets as squad cars played a recording covering the same ground. (Problem was, the recording was inaudible.)
Pick Up the Phone
Bowser was not the only call waiting. Actor Ryan Reynolds left a voicemail on Friday to his Mint Mobile customers. He offered a free, unlimited data plan to help them stay connected through the pandemic. Though Reynolds' script opens with a professional tone, AdWeek gives the actor credit for injecting some fun into his message. A part owner of the mobile carrier, Reynolds is nothing if not relatable. He jokes on the recording that he’s bored and has ignored his to-do list during this unforeseen break. He'd wanted to do more yoga, read more and be a better parent.
As PR pros struggle to cut through the noise, journalists are getting significant numbers of pitches urging them to interview this or that executive. Many open with a long-winded intro about how coronavirus "has changed everything," (really, we hadn’t noticed). Speaking with our expert, the pitch often says, will help clear up things for you and your audience.
A better approach arrived this morning via email from University of New Haven communicator Carolyn Meyer. She opened with one sentence, noting that the school has a bevy of expert sources ready to help content creators. She next lists the 10 sources, their topic areas in bold, a head shot and one sentence about the person’s expertise.
For example, “Jan Jones, PhD, is professor of Hospitality and Tourism in the College of Business, and is available to discuss the impact on the travel industry.” Each miniature bio also contains a link to the person’s email.
"At this time most journalists know what they want to write about," Meyer tells us. "I'm giving them the top line information. Our faculty experts, once contacted, take it from there." Bravo!
March 31, 2020
Mixed Messages on Coronavirus Return
by Seth Arenstein
Sunday evening, many communicators breathed easier. The federal government aligned its message on coronavirus (see update, March 29). For weeks, White House science officials said the virus was highly dangerous. The president and some of his economic and political advisors, though, wavered. Some days it was a serious issue, other days it would be over as soon as Easter. One of the results of this two-script messaging was public confusion.
During his March 29 Rose Garden briefing, President Trump, though, abandoned his idea of re-opening the country on Easter. Instead, the president's tone and message about coronavirus was more serious than during his previous press briefings. It seemed his medical advisors had prevailed upon him. Similarly, he announced a regime of distancing and other measures would extend to April 30. The regime was scheduled to end March 30.
The next evening (March 30), though, the president’s briefing was less on point. At the start he said, "Challenging times are ahead for the next 30 days, and this is a very vital 30 days," according to a White House transcript. Other than that, however, nearly everything seemed copacetic. Everyone is doing a "great" or "fantastic" job, the president said repeatedly. Clearly, this was to be an upbeat press briefing. Full period. Stop.
A Moment for Pathos
It fell to Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services administrator Seema Verma to provide a touch of pathos on a record day of American deaths from coronavirus. "I want to convey my deepest sympathies to those that have lost loved ones to the coronavirus. We’re all thinking of you," she said during the briefing.
In addition, Verma saluted doctors and other health care workers. "I want to send a message of gratitude to the foot soldiers in this war: men and women that are providing care and comfort to Americans that have been affected by the virus. Your country is grateful."
At issue, of course, is that the Sun isn't shining all over the country. In record numbers, the public is watching news reports. They are replete with stories about a lack of availability of tests, shortages in PPE and ventilators. Media reports from NY and LA seem particularly dire.
Accentuate the Positive
Instead of acknowledging issues, the president did his best to make the case that everything is under control. His administration is doing a great job, he said more than once.
On the face of it, there’s not too much wrong with that. Projecting a calm exterior is a maxim of crisis PR. Another basic of crisis communication is emphasizing the positive. Some PR pros argue you should never repeat negative news. Say it once and move on.
So it was good when the president emphasized advances in testing. "First of all, the numbers have been incredible on testing, but in the days ahead, we’re going to go even faster," he said.
These new tests eventually might provide a diagnosis of coronavirus in five minutes. Abbott Labs developed the test. The FDA approved it at lightning speed, Trump said, At one point, he showed a box containing the test kit. He congratulated the FDA, Abbott and other pharmaceutical companies.
Later, heads of various companies were called to the podium for an acknowledgement of their company's contribution to the fight. All praised the president's leadership. One corporate head, Mike Lindell of My Pillow, essentially performed an off-script commercial for the president's re-election.
Turning to the work of the Army Corps of Engineers, the president said, "It’s been really pretty amazing what they’ve done...a 2,900-bed hospital in New York in just about three days, maybe four days. And the whole city is talking about it."
Reality is Important Too
Where the president fell down was in his reluctance to balance upbeat news with continued difficulties surrounding coronavirus. According to media reports, the availability of testing remains an issue. If reports are to be believed, there are shortages of PPE and ventilators too.
The president’s positivity needed at least a smidgen of realism. Without it, he seems out of touch or uncaring. Instead of papering over the issues, the president should be acknowledging issues and discussing how his team will solve them.
And the Media
Another negative is the president's handling of some reporters' questions. He blanched when one questioned him about the apparent dearth of tests. “We’re testing more than any country in the world,” was the president’s response. While that is true, to imply there is no test shortage seems disingenuous. He later berated the reporter for inquiring about the reported shortage of tests.
Today, a Republican, Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland, was asked about the president's upbeat assessment of testing. “That’s just not true,” he said.
More confusion over messaging. After weeks of saying it was unwise for the general public not to wear masks, the CDC reportedly is ready to change that message.
Does Amazon Firing Show PR Counsel on Reputation is Moot in the New Normal?
by Seth Arenstein
In normal times, workers speaking out against employers is a risky proposition. Doing so as a non-union worker is even riskier. The same holds when unions call a strike; it's a risky move. There are always people willing to cross picket lines. In this moment of massive unemployment, speaking out against an employer can be tantamount to suicide.
The standard PR advice holds that companies consider their public image and reputation when dealing with employee demands and strikes.
For example, Google, which prided itself as a progressive company, initially treaded delicately with employees who made demands and asked questions about sexual harassment policies and other issues in 2018. When Google staff planned a global walkout in October 2018, CEO Sundar Pichai told workers they’d have company support during the walkout.
In the current environment, though, some employers seem emboldened. With unemployed workers desperate to fill jobs, it could become an unprecedented moment for companies to push back on staff. Standard PR advice might be tossed out the window.
For example, Amazon yesterday confirmed it fired employee Chris Smalls, who organized a walkout at an Amazon warehouse in NY, "Time" reported. Smalls and other workers were protesting the lack of coronavirus safety conditions in Amazon warehouses.
Amazon said it fired Smalls for violating safety procedures. Smalls, Amazon said in a statement, “received multiple warnings for violating social distancing guidelines and putting the safety of others at risk.” He “was asked to remain home with pay for 14 days, which is a measure we’re taking at sites around the world. Despite that instruction to stay home with pay, he came on site today, March 30, further putting the teams at risk.”
Smalls says this is “ridiculous,” according to Time. He claims he was fired for coordinating the strike.
Rumbles about coronavirus safety procedures at Amazon warehouses and other companies' sites surfaced earlier in the month. Amazon denied the allegations. In addition, Amazon chief Jeff Bezos communicated with an open letter earlier this month, praising Amazon workers.
Meanwhile, a media report has Whole Foods workers in N.Y. planning a sick-out over safety conditions. The workers also want double time for working as the virus spreads. Amazon upped workers' pay by $2 per hour. In addition, Amazon says workers testing positive for the virus will receive 2 weeks' sick pay. The stores continue to upgrade their anti-virus safety procedures, Amazon said.
Amazon and Whole Foods are not unionized. In addition, even during normal times, a company as powerful as Amazon doesn't always need to heed standard PR advice.
Firing a Doctor
In a related story, Ming Lin, a physician, claims he was fired March 27, 2020, for speaking to media about working conditions at a Washington state hospital, according to Bloomberg.
“Nurses and other health care workers are being muzzled in an attempt by hospitals to preserve their image,” the Washington State Nurses Association said in a statement. “While hospitals give media tours and make statements touting their preparation for and response to the COVID-19 crisis, those on the front lines are being silenced.”
Media reports say certain hospitals have warned staff to avoid speaking with the media regarding working conditions, particularly surrounding lack of equipment. In some states, hospitals are overloaded with virus patients. Doctors, nurses and other personnel claim hospitals are short on ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks, gloves and gowns.
It's clear hospitals are trying to manage the message, maintain their reputation and re-establish policies that call for communications staff to authorize media interviews. At this point, it might be a case of getting the horse back in the barn. Content featuring nurses, doctors and other health care employees discussing PPE shortages, overcrowded conditions and 12-hour shifts already are in wide circulation on social media, in newspapers and on television.
March 30, 2020
UK Prime Minister Kicks It Old School
by Seth Arenstein
A maxim of PR and communications is that it’s usually best to be straightforward. Write simply, in the first person and use plain language, not jargon. In addition, sometimes plain, old letter-writing works best.
That’s the theory behind UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s letter. It was sent starting today to the country's 30 million households.
Self-quarantined in number 10 Downing Street with the virus, Johnson’s message to his countrymen is simple and direct: stay home, please.
From a PR viewpoint, the 507-word letter works. It is composed in plain language, and is easy to read. There's little doubt about the main takeaway. In addition, Johnson gets to his point relatively quickly. He's 136 words when he tells people to stay home.
The letter largely is honest, though it is not an apology vehicle. Johnson fails to acknowledge that early on he resisted taking strong steps to slow the virus. In fact, it says, "From the start, we have sought to put in the right measures at the right time." That's open for debate. Critics say Johnson was slow in action to address the virus. For example, early this month Johnson famously said he’d continue shaking hands with people.
On the other hand, the missive has a direct honesty about it. For example, Johnson admits, “We know things will get worse before they get better.” It also acknowledges that without widespread cooperation, the country's national health service (NHS) will be overwhelmed.
Another point for Johnson is that the letter’s tone is lukewarm to warm. It's also upbeat, and includes an exhortation to the spirit of the British people. Johnson also offers support for those worried about finances: "The Government will do whatever it takes to help you make ends meet and put food on the table."
News reports of the letter came as London announced 1,000 Britons have died of COVID-19 thus far. The letter will cost about $7.1 million (£5.7 million) to produce and send to the country's 66 million people, reports said. A pamphlet about financial support accompanies the letter.
Here is Prime Minister Johnson’s letter in full:
I am writing to you to update you on the steps we are taking to combat coronavirus.
In just a few short weeks, everyday life in this country has changed dramatically. We all feel the profound impact of coronavirus not just on ourselves, but on our loved ones and our communities.
I understand completely the difficulties this disruption has caused to your lives, businesses and jobs. But the action we have taken is absolutely necessary, for one very simple reason.
If too many people become seriously unwell at one time, the NHS will be unable to cope. This will cost lives. We must slow the spread of the disease, and reduce the number of people needing hospital treatment in order to save as many lives as possible.
That is why we are giving one simple instruction - you must stay at home.
You should not meet friends or relatives who do not live in your home. You may only leave your home for very limited purposes, such as buying food and medicine, exercising once a day and seeking medical attention. You can travel to and from work but should work from home if you can.
When you do have to leave your home, you should ensure, wherever possible, that you are two meters apart from anyone outside of your household.
These rules must be observed. So, if people break the rules, the police will issue fines and disperse gatherings.
I know many of you will be deeply worried about the financial impact on you and your family. The Government will do whatever it takes to help you make ends meet and put food on the table.
The enclosed leaflet sets out more detail about the support available and the rules you need to follow. You can also find the latest advice at gov.uk/coronavirus
From the start, we have sought to put in the right measures at the right time. We will not hesitate to go further if that is what the scientific and medical advice tells us we must do.
It's important for me to level with you - we know things will get worse before they get better. But we are making the right preparations, and the more we all follow the rules, the fewer lives will be lost and the sooner life can return to normal.
I want to thank everyone who is working flat out to beat the virus, in particular the staff in our fantastic NHS and care sector across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It has been truly inspirational to see our doctors, nurses and other carers rise magnificently to the needs of the hour.
Thousands of retired doctors and nurses are returning to the NHS - and hundreds of thousands of citizens are volunteering to help the most vulnerable. It is with that great British spirit that we will beat coronavirus and we will beat it together.
That is why, at this moment of national emergency, I urge you, please, to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.
Tributes Flood Twitter for #NationalDoctorsDay
by Nicole Schuman
Every day health professionals across the globe take to the front lines in the fight to treat patients and save lives from the deadly coronavirus. Doctors, nurses and staff are taxed beyond their limits, and yet, still keep going.
Celebrities, politicians, athletes, spouses, healthcare staff and even pets took to social media today to share tributes, successes, joys and pleas to stay inside and help stop the spread of the virus. If ever a time were good for a National Doctors' Day, today would be it.
We wanted to share some of the uplifting and positive mentions on Twitter from across the globe, that are sure to brighten your day. Remember to thank your favorite doctor, or any healthcare professional, by utilizing the hashtag #NationalDoctorsDay on any social media platform today.
The best way to thank our doctors and healthcare professionals is to listen to them.
— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) March 30, 2020
— Vala Afshar (@ValaAfshar) March 30, 2020
#NYPD Harbor and Aviation escort the @USNavy USNS Comfort as it enters New York Harbor. Docking at Manhattan's Pier 90, the ship will be helping #NYC and the Nation by providing much needed additional medical care. @NYPDnews #NationalDoctorsDay pic.twitter.com/nMgH3InUv4
— NYPD Special Ops (@NYPDSpecialops) March 30, 2020
Today is #NationalDoctorsDay but rather than just celebrating the #Doctors, during this time of #COVID19 uncertainty let’s celebrate all #heroes who keep our healthcare system going-nurses/APPs, lab techs, dietary, environmental services, phlebotomy, custodial staff, & others.
— Dr. Krutika Kuppalli (@KrutikaKuppalli) March 30, 2020
— Vala Afshar (@ValaAfshar) March 30, 2020
Medical doctors shape our lives every day and it's why so many people call them heroes. On #NationalDoctorsDay, here's to all the medical professionals who make our lives better, on and off the Earth. https://t.co/IZm8VcD2cy
— NASA (@NASA) March 30, 2020
— Greys Anatomy (@GreysABC) March 30, 2020
Today is #NationalDoctorsDay, and we know you love our @nyulangone physicians as much as we do. But today, more than ever, we want to show ALL of our #NYULangoneHeroes some 💜. Please leave words of encouragement below. #COVID19 pic.twitter.com/9qsYmZ7ETM
— NYU Langone Health (@nyulangone) March 30, 2020
Hey healthcare pros! You all are incredible. 🥰 As a sweet #THANKYOU for all you’re doing, we've got FREE dozens for you on #Mondays from #NationalDoctorsDay 3/30 through #NationalNursesWeek 5/11. 🍩 Click here for all info https://t.co/RnOiPjwFDO! #KrispyKreme
— Krispy Kreme (@krispykreme) March 25, 2020
— Sly James The Cat (@slyjamesthecat) March 30, 2020
March 29, 2020
President Aligns Messaging with Scientists
by Seth Arenstein
The communicator in chief's messaging turned the corner tonight. After several weeks of behind-the-scenes debate, the president’s medical team seems to have made an impact. Both the president and his task force presented a united message on the potential severity of the novel coronavirus. In addition, the messaging seems in concert about how to fight the virus.
After weeks of denying and downplaying the virus’s severity, the president, during a 90-minute news conference, delivered a message more in line with one his White House task force on coronavirus had recommended for weeks.
Easter No More
Shelving his earlier idea of re-opening the country for Easter—the president and other administration officials termed that message late this week and today as “aspirational”—Trump extended the social distancing regime through April 30. The current guidelines were set to expire tomorrow.
Uniform messaging is a hallmark of crisis communications. For several weeks, the task force said the U.S. should take the virus and mitigation practices seriously, including distancing and regular hand-washing.
Economy vs. Virus
More recently, the president distributed messages that efforts to control the spread of the virus were destroying the economy. He tweeted that the cure should not be worse than the problem, hinting there was a possibility that Americans could return to work March 30. Economic advisor Larry Kudlow voiced the same message March 23. The day before, Vice President Mike Pence said people who'd been exposed to coronavirus could go back to their jobs provided they wore masks.
WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF. AT THE END OF THE 15 DAY PERIOD, WE WILL MAKE A DECISION AS TO WHICH WAY WE WANT TO GO!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 23, 2020
This evening Trump acknowledged the situation’s severity. It also appears the economists and business advisors lost the argument.
Why the Change?
It is unclear what or who influenced the president to align his message with scientists. Earlier in the day, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the task force’s most notable member, told CNN that it was conceivable 100,000 Americans could die of the virus. That interview might have done it.
Similarly, projections Fauci reportedly showed a possibility of 1 to 2 million American deaths should the country relax mitigation efforts.
In addition, during the press briefing, the president acknowledged watching troubling scenes of Elmhurst (NY) Hospital on TV. He described seeing pictures of refrigerated trucks lined up the hospital to remove bodies. The president grew up near the hospital.
While medical officials are grateful that the president and his doctors are speaking from the same script, critics noted the presser still contained an ample amount of content that added nothing to fighting the virus.
For example, the president once again bashed the press, calling out CNN as “fake news” when a reporter attempted to ask him about earlier public statements.
PR pros counsel that there are few better ways to antagonize the press than to publicly insult reporters. They also recommend owning your mistakes. Clearly, the president has changed his thinking about the virus. He should acknowledge earlier misjudgments.
In addition, the president bashed CNN’s ratings. By comparison, ratings for his White House briefings, Trump noted, were strong, similar to those for ESPN's “Monday Night Football” and a reality series finale. He tweeted about ratings earlier in the day. It's not a political statement to say bragging about high ratings does nothing to help health care workers, their patients and families. The priority is fighting coronavirus.
Because the “Ratings” of my News Conferences etc. are so high, “Bachelor finale, Monday Night Football type numbers” according to the @nytimes, the Lamestream Media is going CRAZY. “Trump is reaching too many people, we must stop him.” said one lunatic. See you at 5:00 P.M.!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 29, 2020
In addition, the president also seemed to accuse hospital staff of hoarding protective equipment and ventilators. Again, standard PR advice is that leaders should attend to fixing crisis issues rather than seeking to blame people.
Last, the amount of congratulating was excessive. One of the president's favorite expressions seems to be "You're doing a great job." Similarly, it's clear just about everyone who ascends to the podium is urged to begin their remarks with a salute to the president's "leadership." Again, it's unclear how this continued obeisance is helping the fight against coronavirus.
Communicating from the Heart
by Seth Arenstein
Last week PRNEWS published an essay from Gil Bashe of Finn Partners that argued professional communicators and corporate leaders need to emote with their messages. At a time when people the world over are concerned about their health and financial health, humanity in messaging is required.
Some of the most heartfelt communication this weekend came from doctors and nurses. Several took to social media or did interviews to highlight how dire the situation is in their profession.
My babies are too young to read this now. And they’d barely recognize me in my gear. But if they lose me to COVID I want them to know Mommy tried really hard to do her job. #GetMePPE #NYC pic.twitter.com/OMew5G7mjK
— Cornelia Griggs (@CorneliaLG) March 29, 2020
March 27, 2020
The New Normal: UN's Historic Ask of Communicators, Hoda Emotes, Pitching and Social Hold Tight
by Seth Arenstein
Since part of the new normal finds many of us at home, consuming media almost non-stop, the need for new ads and PSAs is rising. After you’ve seen a PSA or heard a message many times in succession, no matter how good it is, you tend to ignore it.
UN Seeks Messaging
Anticipating the need for inventory around the pandemic, the United Nations issued “a call to creatives” yesterday to compose pandemic-related PSAs and messages in multiple mediums (social, digital, streaming, print, broadcast, and radio) and 18 languages. It's the first time the UN has issued such a call.
The UN said it wants to spread useful information about: “personal hygiene, social distancing, know the symptoms, kindness contagion, myth busting and do more/donate.”
Its offer is open to “creators, influencers, media owners, brands, community groups” and, cleverly, “human beings,” the UN said. A form to begin the process is here.
Topsy Turvy Ad Market
Another part of the new normal pertinent to communicators and marketers is how the ad market is reacting. Normally, increased usage on platforms translates into higher prices for ads. The virus has altered that norm.
Twitter, for example, has seen daily usage spike 23 percent this year. Yet, its ad business is down 20 percent this month. Anticipating an economic slowdown, brands have halted or reduced advertising buys. Ditto for Facebook, Google and The New York Times — usage is up, but ad revenue is expected to fall.
There are aspects of the new normal that have changed in degree only. In normal times, PRNEWS' offices are flooded with pitches urging us to interview PR executives.
During the pandemic, the number of pitches coming into our (home) offices offering interviews has risen significantly. Nearly all offer to introduce us to PR crisis-communication pros.
Takeaway 1: Instead of pitching journalists with what you are offering, why not ask them first what they need. Some content creators will, of course, want crisis experts. Others covering this space, though, seek sources on remote work, creativity, strategy, leadership, social media and internal communications, to name a few. In short, during the pandemic so far, PR is not all about crisis communications.
Takeaway 2: A basic premise of media pitching during normal times holds that you get to know the journalist, or at least the publication, that you’re pitching. That holds during the pandemic period. Don’t send blind pitches that prove you’ve not done your homework.
With so many journalists and publications going 24/7 coronavirus coverage, it’s doubly bad to begin a pitch the way the one we received this morning did (below). It offered an interview, though not one with a crisis expert:
Hope you are keeping well. I wanted to see if you were working on any stories on how brands and businesses are managing social media and PR efforts amidst the Coronavirus pandemic.
Emotions Running High
During a PRNEWS webinar this week, speakers such as Gil Bashe, managing partner, global health lead, Finn Partners, emphasized the need for corporate communications in this environment to increase its emotional component.
Similarly, TV is going places it's rarely visited. It's become a more human medium as audiences and talent share concerns about health, finances and the future. "Today" host Hoda Kotb broke down this morning during a segment with New Orleans Saints star Drew Brees. A former reporter in New Orleans, Kotb was overcome to learn Brees and his wife donated $5 million to fight the pandemic. Social media lauded Kotb's display of emotion.
I think we are all Hoda right now. pic.twitter.com/k8fb7ies7m
— Amee Vanderpool (@girlsreallyrule) March 27, 2020
Social Media Remains Fickle
During pre-coronavirus times, social media was a double-edged sword. It helped make brands and certain celebrities seem more approachable. Then there were the tone-deaf miscues and miscalculations that potentially could destroy reputations with amazing speed.
At the moment, of course, social is helping many of us connect with friends and loved ones. What's changed is how social is used. Part of the new normal has late-night TV hosts communicating with viewers on social platforms. In some cases, such as "The Daily Show," they are providing useful health information (see below).
Dr. Anthony Fauci answers some of the most pressing questions surrounding coronavirus: How is it spread? What makes it so insidious? What are the dangers of self-medicating? Can you get re-infected? pic.twitter.com/tvw25lQZBs
— The Daily Show (@TheDailyShow) March 27, 2020
On the other hand, actor Gal Gadot and a bunch of her celeb friends took to social last week for some do-gooding. The rich and famous covered "Imagine," believing they were entertaining homebound fans. Social's reaction was decidedly mixed. As PRNEWS' Sophie Maerowitz wrote March 24, "Celebs’ attempts to lighten the mood...did not impress those who felt influencers’ time would be better spent donating their millions to worthy charities, or...promoting COVID relief."
Similarly, Visa chairman Al Kelly apparently felt it was good to make a public pledge on LinkedIn that there will be no layoffs during 2020 at his company. Again, reaction was mixed. Plenty hailed Kelly's move, saying it was courageous leadership. Others accused him of arrogance and using the pandemic to score points. Several wondered how Kelly could make such a pledge in this uncertain moment.
As we said, not everything has changed in the new normal.
March 26, 2020
by Nicole Schuman
TV Wrestles with Live Coverage of WH Virus Pressers
Central to the communicator's job is distributing timely and accurate information. This is especially important for TV news networks, where daily viewership continues to rise, with most people at home and many looking for the latest coronavirus information.
Cable news viewing was up exponentially — 73 percent for the week of March 16, compared to the same week a year ago, according to Comscore. In addition, cable news network viewing rose 40 percent from a month ago and 8 percent from the previous week. The national broadcast networks, ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX, rose 20 percent year over year.
In the midst of rising ratings, broadcast news in a quandary. As Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan argued this week, "The media must stop live-broadcasting [President] Trump's dangerous, destructive coronavirus briefings."
Similarly, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow told viewers, "If it were up to me — and it's not — I would stop putting those briefings on live TV. Not out of spite, but because it's misinformation. If the president does end up saying anything true, you can run it as tape. All of us should stop broadcasting it, honestly. It's going to cost lives."
The press briefings have offered pertinent information from trusted health advisors, including a man the public has grown to lean on, infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci. On the other hand, the sessions also have featured factual exaggerations, insults and blame. The president has bashed China, the Obama administration, Democrats and the White House press corps, whom the public depends on to deliver news from the front lines.
According to CNN, through the first two weeks of March the president made 33 false claims regarding COVID-19. Most were related to the availability of testing.
For many in the media, the president's utterances have created concern about distributing dangerous information to the public. Critics point to an Arizona man who died after ingesting chloroquine phosphate, a version of the chemical chloroquine used to clean aquariums. His wife was hospitalized. The president touted chloroquine during a press conference as a possible treatment for coronavirus.
Radio Station Says 'No More'
A public radio station in Washington, KUOW, decided it no longer will carry the briefings live. Similarly, "The Daily Beast" reported that staff at CNN and MSNBC "acknowledged that airing Trump’s pressers live and in full likely amplifies the spread of misinformation about the disease and its potential cure."
CNN, MSNBC, ABC, NBC, and CBS cut away from the president's coronavirus briefing March 23 after he contradicted medical experts and said it would be great to have America re-open for business and work within a couple of weeks.
Many journalists recognize the briefings' importance. They also acknowledge their networks' responsibility to the American people. CNN and MSNBC acknowledged they have developed kill-switch plans when briefings give way to exaggerated speculation and falsehoods. One cable-network producer told The Daily Beast, “We might take it from the top and then cut away after the first lie, and return when the lies stop.”
The Most Difficult Communications
by Seth Arenstein
Several years ago, some medical schools began to require students take courses in communications. These schools understood that medicine, at its core, is about people. Communicating effectively with patients and families is a core competency for doctors. Without a physician-to-patient connection, good medical care falls between the cracks.
If you’ve been following this site recently you’ve read about emerging best practices in these difficult times, tactics for remote work, maintaining morale and, as Gil Bashe, managing partner and health lead at Finn Partners, wrote, communicating to people's heads and their hearts.
We’d be remiss, though, if we failed in these difficult times to mention the important role medical communications is playing. Working around the clock, doctors and other medical personnel in New York City-area hospitals will be communicating the news that despite all heroic effort, some people will not survive COVID-19.
Owing to the lack of protective equipment, some hospitals are discussing the possibility of invoking universal do not resuscitate (DNR) policies. These internal conversations won't be easy.
Another conversation, between doctors, their patients and families, will explain that long-time, non-coronavirus patients may need to come off ventilators to try to save coronavirus patients who have a better chance of recovery. In many cases this amounts to a death sentence for patients with other pressing medical needs.
Doctors hold life-and-death conversations regularly. It doesn’t make them easier. These talks likely will come at a far more rapid pace.
Lack of Ventilators
Another conversation, one that will start with doctors and eventually be held with patients and families, also centers on the lack of ventilators. This shortage will necessitate difficult conversations about which coronavirus patients should be put on a ventilator and which, due to age, underlying conditions and other factors, should not.
"Triage is never easy...it's always heartbreaking...for the family and their healthcare team," Bashe, a military medic before his PR career, says. That in some cases family won't be allowed to visit patients won't help either.
Communicators outside the medical field are dealing with weighty issues, including how to communicate layoffs, furloughs, outright job cuts and wage reductions. It's vital, though, that we balance our tribulations with subjects medical practitioners may need to discuss.
"It is almost impossible to imagine what our healthcare professionals will face emotionally, once this pandemic has passed," Bashe says.
We wish them, and their patients and families, Godspeed.
March 25, 2020
COVID-19 Social Conversations Offer Action Items for Communicators
by Sophie Maerowitz
During the last several weeks, COVID-19 has dominated social media, all but wiping out other topics and news items. COVID-19 has amassed upward of 197 million Twitter mentions worldwide during the last two weeks, Sprout Social told PRNEWS.
Communications pros face a conundrum. Brands that don't provide health care, food and related services to the public are wondering whether or not they should bother monitoring social media conversations around the disease.
Savvy communicators know they should. Monitoring social conversations around COVID-19 can help communicators formulate action plans during this uncertain period, Sprout Social senior manager of content and communications Alicia Johnston argues. Social listening helps PR pros “develop effective response strategies, make deeper connections with their community and build lasting trust that will see them through this global crisis,” she adds.
Some non-health care brands are monitoring conversations about their virus-related efforts. For example, luxury brand LVMH increased online mentions 166 percent (vs March 2019) and engagement 551 percent on news that it's producing hand sanitizer and masks, Talkwalker data shows. Nike's #Playinside and #Playfortheworld effort saw brand mentions jump 17 percent March 21, the day the campaign launched, vs the previous day.
PlanetFitness saw mentions rise 760 percent during the period March 15-24 on news of the gym chain's at-home work out, Talkwalker says. Not a surprise that Zoom found conversations about it spiking. From March 1-24, Zoom and "meeting" returned nearly 1 million engagements, an increase of 9,580 percent from February.
Notable data from Sprout includes:
- The economic impact is reflected in 1.8 percent of the conversation (3.6 million tweets), but it is on an upward swing, with conversations beginning to spike March 19
- 9 percent of total conversations (17.6 million tweets) focused on the health care system, hospital resources and status of medical equipment
- Posts about the spread of the virus (growth in cases, flattening the curve) are reflected in about 7 percent of the conversation (13.5 million tweets)
- Social distancing, quarantine and shelter-in-place or stay-at-home orders made up 2.5 percent of conversations (~5 million tweets)
- Parenting in the COVID-19 era (e.g. school closures, e-learning options) saw more than 2.75 million tweets, representing 1.3 percent of the conversation
- More than half a million tweets are focused on remote work, with companies communicating policies and employees seeking and sharing best practices
So, how should communicators put these statistics to good use? Provide audiences value in response to topics like the above, even if it’s a new area for your brand. (That is, if your brand can speak from a place of relevance and authority.)
“This is the time to try something new—having your CEO offer guidance on LinkedIn, experimenting with TikTok,” said Carreen Winters, chair of reputation management and chief strategy officer at MWWPR, during a free PRNEWS webinar about communicating around the virus. Yonder sponsored the webinar. A free replay will be available tomorrow.
Winters said LinkedIn and other platforms "are hungry" for thought leadership about how the business world is responding. Similarly, consumers are looking for infotainment and up-to-date information. “Be sure to offer [audiences] value...rather than trying to sell them something, which can come off as tone-deaf,” she said.
She also argued that paid social should not necessarily be taken off the table. “As long as we’re not trying to sell something that is not useful.” For example, a gas company that offers to fill the tanks of health care workers could use paid social to spread its offer. “This is the time to get busy with social and give it a chance.” Naturally, that starts with listening to what people are tweeting and posting about daily.
Cultural Institutions Share Flowers, Digital Collections With Isolated Public
by Sophie Maerowitz
With museums and cultural institutions shuttered during the pandemic, communications teams have banded together to show support for each other’s collections and brighten art lovers’ days via the #MuseumBouquet hashtag.
Dear @americanart, we wanted to brighten your day with these apple blossoms by American painter Martin Johnson Heade.
— New-York Historical Society (@NYHistory) March 24, 2020
Some museums are expanding their online collections or making existing content more prominent. The Art Institute of Chicago is making it easier for people to access their digital collection, tweeting out its interactive tour of El Greco’s "The Assumption of the Virgin," a staple of their collection. “The goal is to provide a space where people can learn, be inspired and have an escape from their day-to-day in a moment when it’s very difficult to escape,” said Kati Murphy, executive director of public affairs at the Institute.
While the museum is closed, we hope to offer dynamic ways of engaging with art on our gallery walls.
Peel back the layers of "The Assumption of the Virgin," the centerpiece of our exhibition "El Greco: Ambition and Defiance"—https://t.co/5WVZ3RKvGC
— Art Institute (@artinstitutechi) March 18, 2020
Cultural institutions that participated in the floral art-share included The Cleveland Museum of Art, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, among others. While other sectors might find it harder to band together online, nonprofit cultural institutions have a unique advantage in that different localities would never “compete” for visitors, in the same way that online retail or streaming services might be competing for consumer attention and time. Communicators might find it worthwhile to investigate whether their own business communities can offer each other, and the public, messages of hope while amplifying each others’ online presence and offerings.
— Denver Botanic Gardens (@botanic) March 24, 2020
The effort is an example of solidarity in the nonprofit sector as institutions that rely upon tourism and admissions fees suffer the blow of nonessential business closures. Hopefully, the artwork featured will remind erstwhile museum-goers to visit their favorite institutions as soon as they reopen–not to mention cheering up a morose public.
March 24, 2020
Adult Site Donates 50K Masks to NY, Europe
by Seth Arenstein
Add the largest, ad-supported adult video streaming website (120 million visitors/day) to the list of brands helping during this difficult time. Pornhub said today it is donating 50,000 surgical masks to NY-area medical personnel.
Specifically, 15,000 masks will go to Local 2507, which represents emergency medical technicians, paramedics and fire inspectors at the NY Fire Department (FDNY). The Uniformed Firefighters Association (UFA) Local 94 also will receive 15,000 masks. A total of 20,000 masks will be sent to Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital.
PRNEWS asked a Pornhub executive how the company acquired the masks. Pornhub did not reply to our question by press time.
Meanwhile, recipients were happy for Pornhub's generosity. "We thank Pornhub for its generous donation...we need to come together...and overcome this national crisis,”said Bobby Eustace, VP, UFA, Local 94.
After thanking Pornhub for its donation, Michael Greco, VP, FDNY EMS, Local 2507, said, "Any company willing to step up and help protect those on the front lines and their families with much needed supplies like surgical masks will allow our members to do their job safely and feel confident going home knowing their families are safe too.”
In addition, Pornhub is donating 50,000 Euros ($54,000) to European organizations to purchase masks.
Pornhub also is donating $25,000 to Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP), which will help sex workers that coronavirus has touched.
Taking care of its own, adult-film stars, Pornhub will offer its actors 100 percent of their video sales, minus a 15 percent processing fee, during April. The performers should do well. Pornhub has seen sales grow significantly since the virus struck.
Pornhub is encouraging adults to stay home and practice distancing. As such, it is offering the Pornhub Premium service free globally.
Restaurants, Delis Feed Their Own
by Seth Arenstein
There’s little doubt about the ferocity of the coronavirus pandemic. On the other hand, seeing how several brands in some of the worst-hit sectors are attempting to care for their own is heartwarming.
Case in point is the restaurant and bar industry. Through a donation from Maker’s Mark, restaurant owners and chefs are turning establishments into staging areas for free meals and supplies. The food and other items are distributed daily to waiters, bartenders and industry personnel that coronavirus has left unemployed.
Starting March 17, Chef Edward Lee turned his 610 Magnolia restaurant in Louisville into a relief center. In addition to complimentary meals, the restaurant is distributing toilet paper, Tylenol, diapers, canned goods and cereal. Donations from citizens and other organizations allowed Chef Lee to serve some 400 unemployed workers on night one.
The move inspired chefs across the country to partner with Lee, who has a foundation, and launch relief centers in their cities. The honor roll includes: Nancy Silverton at Chi Spacca in Los Angeles, who’s serving 300 meals nightly. She limits guests to two meals per, there’s a quota on other supplies and you must show proof that you were a restaurant or bar employee.
Other participants include: Chefs/owners Jose Salazar at Mita’s in Cincinnati; Edouardo Jordan at Salare in Seattle; Paul Kahan at Big Star in Chicago; Alon Shaya at Safta in Denver; Greg Braxtrom at Olmsted and Nate Adler at Gertie’s, both in Brooklyn; Donald Link at Cochon in New Orleans; Ouita Michel and Samantha Fore at Great Bagel Bakery in Lexington; and Linton Hopkins at Restaurant Eugene in Atlanta. In addition, Lee’s DC-based Succotash also joined.
The story doesn’t end here, however. Other restaurants, some working with Lee, others going solo or partnering with other groups, also are doing their part to feed and help hospitality employees. An excellent bunch of LA-based bars and restaurants are joining the cause.
There’s also a subset of restaurants offering sustenance to health care workers. Beverly Grove and DTLA sandwich shop Uncle Paulie’s is sending deli sandwiches and salads for workers in the healthcare industry. Bar Amá / Orsa & Winston / Bäco Mercat and Amácita chef Josef Centeno is sending meals to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, including enchiladas, which look delicious.
Meanwhile, on the East Coast, another well-known NY deli chain is feeding hospital staff. Former Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) joined Ben's Deli and United Way of Long Island for Chicken Soup for Health Care Responders. Ben's will deliver free its cold cut sandwiches, salads and soups (packaged to avoid contamination) to hospitals in Nassau and Suffolk counties. Rep. Israel conceived the idea while munching Ben’s’ take-out fare during his self-quarantine.
How the IOC Could Improve Its Crisis Response
by Nicole Schuman
Today (March 24, 2020) after much speculation, the International Olympic Committee announced a postponement of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. The IOC released a joint statement with the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee recapping a conference call held between the president of the IOC, Thomas Bach and the prime minister of Japan, Abe Shinzo.
According to the statement, both parties acknowledged the “worldwide concern regarding the COVID-19 pandemic” and the impact it would have for everyone preparing for the games. They agreed that the games would be rescheduled to a “date beyond 2020, but not later than summer 2021 to safeguard the health of the athletes, everybody involved in the Olympic Games and the international community.”
This is not the first time the Olympics have been entangled in a crisis (Rio 2016 dealt with Zika, poor environmental conditions and bad behavior of athletes, and the Olympics as a whole have battled the criticism of extended periods of silence regarding doping scandals and sexual abuse allegations). However, this is the first time the modern Olympic Games will be postponed and not cancelled, as they were during the World Wars, and its a decision many have been waiting for since the coronavirus pandemic started to spread.
Where the Olympics Went Wrong
Admittedly, postponing the Games could not have been an easy decision for anyone involved. The impact it will have on everyone involved is not forgotten. Athletes, whose training schedules will have to be readjusted, may rule out some of those who were most promising -- those who may not be able to return for 2021 based on schooling, jobs, lost sponsorships or family.
Economically, the impact to Japan and its citizens cannot be ignored, as billions were pumped into the economy to create jobs, venues and tourism opportunities. A loss of advertising dollars surrounding television contracts and sponsorships and programmatic advertising will ripple throughout the industry.
Ben Fischer, NFL and Olympics reporter at Sports Business Journal, said decisions often take awhile to come down because of the massive membership and connections of the IOC.
“The IOC is often in a difficult position because of how many different stakeholders and partners they have,” Fischer said. “They hold all the cards ultimately, but you can see why they wouldn't want to say things about Tokyo 2020 without having the Japanese government fully on board.”
And yet, the IOC left a lot of people guessing over the past month. According to USA Today, even as the virus escalated, Bach encouraged athletes to continue training and traveling for qualifying meets, even as the environment became more dangerous. On March 3, IOC spokesperson Mark Adams said there had been no discussion of a deadline for a final decision on the Olympics because "we've (already) made a decision" to not postpone.
“Had they said "we don't yet believe we have to make this decision, and we still hold out hope we can proceed. But we are working on alternative plans," they would have gotten more benefit of the doubt,” Fischer said.
Life changes pretty quickly.
Within two weeks, the virus spread exponentially around the globe, bringing modern countries such as Italy, Spain and even the United States to a standstill. No crisis communication or strategy seemed to be in place from the IOC. Now, 21 days later, a decision and statement has finally been made. Was it too late? Has its reputation been damaged by not acknowledging the seriousness of the situation?
We will have to wait until 2021 to see.
What Could Be Improved
For years, the IOC has shrouded itself in poorly timed responses to crisis and scandal. And it’s not entirely clear why. Shying away from a crisis never helps a situation, as people are looking for facts and answers.
There are definitely ways the IOC can improve its communications process. First on the list is timeliness. Yes, you should always take the time to craft a statement before distributing to the public. However, when the public waits, rumors and resentment pile up, allowing a situation to get out of control with misinformation. Even if you have nothing yet to say, assure the public in a statement that you are working on a process.
Second on the list: Distribute facts. Do not hide and act as everything is ok, particularly when it is not. The public will respect authority that treats them as adults and human beings. They can handle the truth. The best example of that right now are the masses gathering to watch New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo every day at 11 a.m. for an organized and forthcoming press conference. Cuomo does not sugarcoat the COVID-19 situation. Instead, he provides facts and allows the public to process them; this is earning the respect of an entire nation.
Last, create unified communication. The statements coming from various IOC and Tokyo Organizing Committee members do not display a unified front. IOC member Dick Pound yesterday said the Olympics would be postponed, almost a day ahead of the actual announcement. Prime Minister Abe admitted more than 24 hours earlier that the event might be postponed. Athletes expressed their displeasure with the communications and process all over social media, and created their own unified front. USA Swimming and Gymnastics Team Canada, along many others, released statements regarding their own decisions to pull out of the Olympic Games.
#TeamCanada will not send athletes to Games in summer 2020 due to COVID-19 risks.
— Team Canada (@TeamCanada) March 23, 2020
"The IOC made a critical error by continuing to tell athletes until very recently that they should continue to prepare as if the Games were happening as scheduled," Fischer said. "That put athletes in Europe and North America in the position of choosing between following the law and training. That led to the groundswell of athlete complaints that ultimately forced their hand."
And even though the Games have been postponed, there is still the possibility, depending on the length of the coronavirus crisis that they could be cancelled altogether. The IOC should be prepared for continuous crisis response for everyone impacted.
March 23, 2020
Oldest, Youngest are Least Worried About Virus
by Seth Arenstein
Knowing your audience is a building block of PR. Survey data can help gauge attitudes, inform messages and spotlight potential leads. During the pandemic PRNEWS is looking at data points from surveys and elsewhere to see how the American public and businesses are reacting to the current climate.
Not a Surprise: Most are Worried
A new APCO survey of 1,000 American adults, conducted March 13, showed no change from the previous APCO poll (March 5) in that 90 percent view COVID-19 as “a serious condition.” A total of 83 percent say their household is ready for the virus.
An amazing finding considering the medical evidence: the oldest and youngest Americans are least worried about contracting coronavirus.
Just 29 percent of those younger than 25 say they are “extremely” or “very” worried; only 24 percent of those 65 years old and older feel this way. Slightly more than half (56 percent) of millennials (those aged 25–44) are worried about contracting the virus.
Despite numerous media stories expounding on how the US public health system is ill prepared for the virus, APCO found three-quarters or more believe the health system is prepared. Local hospitals (79 percent) and primary healthcare providers (77 percent) were seen as being slightly more prepared than larger hospitals (76 percent).
Companies Not Ready, But My Company Is
While most respondents (58 percent) believe employers generally are poorly prepared for the virus, 74 percent feel their company is ready.
Specifically, workers feel their employers are prepared to: share information with all employees (79 percent); implement leave or sick pay policies (72 percent); deploy technology solutions (71 percent) and; implement voluntary policies (66 percent) to enable flexible or remote work.
89 percent of those surveyed trust local news and state governors (also 89 percent). National news trust was a healthy 85 percent. President Trump was the least trusted source of information, though he's trusted by a two-thirds majority (65 percent).
Get Your Oat Milk?
Not surprisingly, purchases of items such as disinfecting wipes (353 percent) and ibuprofen (236 percent) rose dramatically during the first week of March, Nielsen found. In general, consumer packaged goods surged, of course. Unusually, though, more consumers are grabbing up oat milk. Nielsen said oat milk sales rose 305 percent in the week ending February 22. Sales of water were up 5 percent.
The new army of stay-at-home workers is discovering what veteran home-workers already knew: hours expand when you work from home. (You have to wonder if offices will be as popular post-COVID-19.)
Working hours for American employers since March 11, 2020, have risen an average of 3 hours daily, from 8 to 11 hours, according to data from NordVPN.
Atlas VPN says use of its service in the U.S. has jumped 124 percent in the past two weeks. In the past week, usage rose 71 percent.
App makers are happy. NordVPN says remote working has propelled a rise in desktop app usage among Americans (94 percent). Globally, NordVPN has seen a 165 percent spike in the use of business VPNs (virtual private networks). NordVPN sales have risen some 600 percent.
And Flirting Longer in Affected Areas
Work hard and play hard. The dating app Bumble says it's seeing large increases in video chats and voice calls. Bumble reportedly is seeing a 21 percent increase in its voice chat and video call usage, per TMZ. People are remaining on the phone 15 minutes on average, Bumble adds.
Areas seeing large increases in Bumble activity include some of the worst virus clusters: NYC (23 percent increase), San Francisco (+ 26 percent) and Seattle, which is up 21 percent. Overall, Bumble messages are up 21 percent. Fortunately, the dating app is counseling users not to visit their prospective partners.
March 22, 2020
State, Business Executives Demonstrate Authentic Leadership in Communications
by Erika Bradbury
A number of states have issued stay-at-home orders to residents, but without a federal mandate, communications about what this means is up to the individual state leader.
Governors from New Jersey, Delaware, Illinois and Ohio issued stay-at-home orders over the weekend, though each have their own directives and timing associated with them.
Though New York issued its orders earlier last week, it has become the state to watch in terms of its communication strategy. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has emerged as a competent and forthright leader, with clear, fact-forward press conferences including an organized presentation deck, and a relatable, yet no-nonsense delivery, instilling a sense of confidence in his constituency.
Similarly, several business executives have delivered on the premise of authentic leadership in their communication approach. Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson delivered a public message via Twitter to his employees and stakeholders, despite his team expressing concern about the approach.
While many lauded Sorenson for his decision to forego a salary for the balance of 2020, the true leadership came from his human approach in delivering his message, which candidly outlined the negative impact COVID-19 is having, and will continue to have, on the hospitality business.
Likewise, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella wrote to employees, “We are in uncharted territory. Much is unknown, and I know how unsettling and uncertain this feels. Like many of you, there have been times over the past weeks where it has felt overwhelming and all-encompassing for me.”
Earlier this month, Rachel Tipograph, CEO of MikMak, an enterprise marketing e-commerce platform, took to LinkedIn and published a note she sent to employees. She wrote: “Preparing for this shift the past few days was new for me as a leader. I reached out to several fellow founder friends, and heads of people at larger companies, to understand how they were supporting their employees. Since the wisdom of so many informed my approach, I'm sharing what we decided to do for MikMak employees in the hope that this helps other leaders navigate these uncertain times.”
Tipograph provided PRNEWS with tips for those in leadership positions, who may or may not be communications pros:
- Be human. Talk to your team in the same voice you’d use with family and friends. We are navigating uncertainty together, and you as a leader are likely operating from the same set of data points as your team. You can say things like, 'This is unprecedented,' 'This may go on for a while,' 'Things may get worse before they get better.' As a leader, you should also say how you’re going to try to make this manageable for your team.
- Mitigate as much uncertainty as possible by being proactive. As a leader, you have the ability to make a crisis less chaotic for your team. If you know you’re going to implement policies and procedures, do so immediately. If you’re moving a date, such as when people are returning to work, tell your team right away. People are comforted knowing information rather than hypothesizing what may happen.
- Follow through. Whatever you tell your team you’re going to do, do it. If you’re introducing meetings, get invites on the calendar immediately. If you say you’re going to randomly call people on your team daily, follow through. And based on your company's size, share the social proof of your actions at scale via Slack, Zoom, etc. Be accountable; otherwise you will lose trust with your team.
March 20, 2020
The New Normal: Chinese Brand Holds Conference in VR, Complete with Awkward Keynote
by Seth Arenstein
Extended Reality (XR) and Virtual Reality (VR) used to be ‘nice-to-haves.’ The augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) market amounted to a forecast of $19 billion in 2020. It is expected to expand significantly in the coming years. Consumer spending made up the single largest portion of the AR/VR market worldwide.
Then the pandemic hit. The new normal that emerges may require communicators be fluent in arranging events in XR and VR. That time may be coming sooner than we think. Case in point is HTC of Taiwan.
The tech company's fifth annual conference earlier this week was a VR spectacle. It “marks the first major physical industry event that has been replaced fully by an interactive VR digital twin,” HTC said in a statement.
HTC said 2,000 participants from more than 55 countries were registered for the conference. Media accounts of the 4-hour virtual experience noted there were few people, er, avatars, in the audience, however.
Still, the event included panels and guest speakers “in the form of their own custom VR avatars," HTC said. The avatars possessed "the freedom to interact with each other...just as they would expect from a physical conference.”
Cher Wang, chairwoman of HTC, delivered her opening speech through her virtual avatar. She noted VR and XR weren’t invented to counter the pandemic, but under the circumstances the virus offers a great way of “demonstrating VR's potential to break through conventional thinking and physical boundaries.”
And what's an industry event without an MOU signing? Avatars of executives from HTC and China Mobile signed the Cloud VR Strategic Cooperation Memorandum. The avatars “signed the MOU...on a grand virtual stage,” HTC said. The MOU promises to accelerate creation of an XR ecosystem.
And what's a tech event, even a virtual one, without an awkward moment or two? HTC China president Alvin Graylin and his avatar did the honors, as you can see in this video. During his speech, Graylin's avatar released virtual coronavirus particles into the virtual air. The coronavirus avatars looked like small balloons.
As if that wasn't tone-deaf enough, Graylin then asked the avatar-attendees in the audience, seated on virtual benches, to take a selfie with the coronavirus avatars floating among them. Don't worry, he told them, 'We've given you special protective gear.'
Considering some marketers don't even want their ads near virus content, Graylin's stunt really was in poor taste.
Though Graylin might want to huddle with his PR pro avatar for virtual media training, his speech was sound. "The inability to meet and communicate face to face will be an increasing challenge for the world, but XR can be one solution," his avatar told the conference. "To stay safe these days, we need to create more distance between people, and conversely, one of the biggest benefits of XR is the ability to remove the perception of distance and boundaries for users."
Graylin hinted at the world after coronavirus. “Working-from-home, distance learning, home-based fitness, immersive entertainment and networked social interactivity will all be part of the new normal.” Obviously this could lead to tremendous growth in XR technologies.
NYC Uses Texting as a Major Communications Source
by Nicole Schuman
Government press conferences and email updates are popular ways of communicating during coronavirus. But with information flooding in about defining a dry cough to how long it takes to wash your hands, the public is overwhelmed, confused and prone to following false information.
One of the epicenters of the crisis, New York City, is home to 8.7 million people. Getting messages to every resident in the country's largest city is of utmost importance, particularly with so many people living in close proximity. Any change in normalcy has the opportunity to impact thousands.
To streamline messaging and quickly disburse important updates, the NYC Emergency Management unit is texting. New Jersey has followed suit. The Pew Research Center says 96 percent of Americans own a mobile phone.
PRNEWS talked with a spokesperson from NYC Emergency Management about the text-message communication strategy, including how it came to be and what other governments can learn from it.
PRNEWS: Why did the government decide this was a good route for communication?
NYCEM: We use the SMS opt-in system for many large-scale events, such as the Thanksgiving Day parade or New Year’s Eve celebrations in Times Square. It is reliable, scalable, and easy to operationalize, traits that are essential in an emergency situation. It provides residents a way to quickly access critical information.
PRNEWS: How do you decide what content goes in the text updates?
NYCEM: The health and safety of every New Yorker receiving the information is paramount, and we work closely with every agency to ensure our messages are clear and consistent. This is a fluid, ever-changing situation, and we want to make sure we are connecting with people during this time to provide them with the trusted information they need, from health guidance to school closures.
PRNEWS: What can other governments learn from this?
NYCEM: It is critical to have a way for residents to quickly opt-in to receive emergency information, especially in a fluid situation such as COVID-19. In NY, we have worked hard to streamline all messaging across City agencies to provide one, clear distribution channel for all official updates.
Regardless of distribution method or messaging capabilities, this interagency coordination has been a driving factor behind the success of the SMS opt-in program. It is a best practice for any jurisdiction considering a similar operation.
PRNEWS: What sort of numbers are you expecting to opt-in?
NYCEM: Subscriber numbers increase significantly when mentioned by trusted officials and/or partner agencies. We have more than 659,000 subscribers for English, and more than 22,000 for Spanish. We have seen a consistent rise in subscribers throughout the response so far. I hope to continue to see that rise to allow us to reach as many New Yorkers as possible.
PRNEWS: How was it implemented?
NYCEM: The short-code, 692-692, is specific to NYC Emergency Management and is always available to be used. For this instance, NYC Emergency Management worked with City Hall and the NYC Department of Health & Mental Hygiene to agree on the keyword, COVID for English, and COVIDESP for Spanish, and any subsequent messaging.
The keyword was then operationalized via our emergency notification system, Everbridge, and immediately ready to be used/advertised to the public. NYC Emergency Management has a 24/7 Public Warning Specialist staff on-duty that worked since activation to send messages to this new group.
March 19, 2020
'Don't Wait, Create,' Media Relations Guru Urges PR Pros to Keep Pitching
by Seth Arenstein
There are two basic ways PR and media relations pros, and the organizations they represent, can react to the current situation: retreat and hide, or reach out and create, says media pitching guru Michael Smart of MichaelSmart PR. During a webinar, "Thoughts on Overcoming this Crisis – in PR, in the Economy, in Life," today (March 19, 2020), he advocated for the latter.
Smart began on a personal note. "Things won't be as bad as we imagine...things will get better...though maybe not soon," he told an audience of 500 virtual attendees. PR pros might have to put some of their dreams "on hold...it's OK to have a feeling of grief," Smart added.
On the other hand, opportunities spring from crisis. Several businesses emerged during bad economic times, he said. For example, the 2008 recession led to Sony retrenching, cutting marketing, he said. The iPhone, though, debuted on the edge of that recession. “Apple didn’t wait [for the recession to end], it reached out…it created.”
Pitch with Sensitivity
Similarly, he argued media pitching can continue during an economic downturn. It should be done, though, with a large dose of sensitivity. Smart insists pitchers know the journalists they target. “If a journalist is writing about COVID-19 all the time,” he said, “and dealing with sick relatives, don’t pitch [her] a story about fabric softener.”
On the other hand, consumers, at the moment, “are starved for content…[and] demand is skyrocketing…journalists know people are stuck at home,” he said. The relative few content creators who are not on 24/7 coronavirus duty are producing entertainment or human interest stories, for example. Find out what they need and pitch them.
As evidence of the varied media landscape, Smart cited a tweet from Felicity Cross, features editor at Britain’s "Daily Star" (see below). He also cited his wife's sewing blog, whose traffic has spiked this week as more people have additional time to devote to the craft.
— Felicity Cross (@fliccross) March 17, 2020
Timing is Everything, but Beware of 'Business as Usual'
Another thing media relations pros should be doing, Smart said, is watching the news for signs of a decline in coronavirus cases. When new cases begin to drop, "particularly in your key market," media at large slowly will become more interested in varied pitches. Slowly, “business as usual" will start to return, he said.
Similarly, PR pros should keep an eye on coronavirus cases in New York City, “the epicenter” of journalism. Sadly, of course, New York State also seems to be America's epicenter of coronavirus. “It will be tough to get national media, based in NY, interested” in a non-virus pitch until cases fall there, Smart admitted. As of now, that day is far in the future. Cases in the Big Apple rose 50 percent yesterday.
Spikes and Bumps Again
Smart warned that normal conditions for media pitching won't return once coronavirus cases decline throughout the country. A fall in the number of cases, he said, likely will spur more people to ignore best practices, such as frequent hand washing and social distancing. “Whatever the government does, people will begin to socialize, and it will cause another spike” in coronavirus cases, he said.
For now, though, PR pros should to begin each day "thinking about how to create more value" for more people than they did the day before, Smart said. In addition, PR pros should limit ingesting news to two times per day. And “be purposeful.” Monitor the news for “anything dramatic in the last 2 hours” that will change the way you operate. And, again, keep on an eye on the rate of cases. “Don’t obsess over the news…[instead] go create.”
For PR pros who are having trouble dealing the stress of the moment, Smart recommended concentrating on things “within your direct control.” You can control yourself, for example, what skills you will learn during this period. “You can’t control what the economy does or what a newscaster says.” Smart said he applied this advice Wednesday (March 18), when an Earthquake rocked his Utah home office. "My mind was paralyzed," he said, until he grounded himself, reducing stress with the knowledge that he could control himself only.
Univision Recognizes Importance of Multi-lingual Communications in a Crisis
by Nicole Schuman
Almost 39 million Americans speak Spanish at home, according to a 2018 U.S. Census survey. While 26 million say they speak English "very well," or "well," more than 9 million do not feel confident in the language, and some do not speak it at all.
While this may seem like a smaller number vs the U.S. population (327 million), it creates a significant language barrier in select regions of the country. And Hispanics make up one of the fastest-growing groups. The Census Bureau projects that in 2060 Hispanic people will make up 30 percent, or 119 million, of the country's population.
This poses a challenge for communicators, particularly during a crisis, who need to share messages with citizens and consumers. It's important to consider multi-lingual messaging, particularly regarding updates during the COVID-19 outbreak, so every constituent knows the latest facts.
Bobby Amirshahi, SVP, corporate communications at Univision Communications, knows the importance of being able to get vital information to a mostly-Spanish-speaking audience, as well as communicating these updates internally within the company.
Tuesday (March 17, 2020), Univision announced its commitment to providing ongoing coverage of the latest developments across its linear and digital platforms.
Univision Steps Up in Spanish
The statement detailed programming to include up-to-the-minute information for its Spanish-speaking audience. The programming also will live on its social channels.
"Univision News will telecast a network-wide special, Diario del Coronavirus (Coronavirus Daily), daily at 3 p.m. ET, preempting local programming and providing viewers with comprehensive coverage about COVID-19. It has also launched a Q&A segment on its morning show Despierta América (Wake Up America) with Univision’s chief medical correspondent Dr. Juan Rivera, in partnership with Facebook. Viewers are encouraged to participate in the Q&A and send in questions regarding the current state of COVID-19 and ways to maintain social and mental health during the pandemic."
Having Spanish-speaking resources, particularly surrounding topics with intricate details like healthcare or the economy, can help an organization reach the extended multilingual audience. Dr. Rivera has become an important resource for the organization, and not just on-air, Amirshahi said.
"We’re leveraging our chief medical correspondent Dr. Rivera for PSAs on our air in Spanish," he said. "He is also taping internal tips and updates to our employees in English. We host Dr Juan’s internal-facing videos on our COVID-19 Resource Page on our intranet site.
The site, launched weeks ago, also offers tips on teleworking from home and using our remote working resources, accessing your health insurance telemedicine resources, company protocols and guidelines during the crisis and much more."
March 18, 2020
How PR Pros Can Trick Their Senses into Thinking a Home Office is The Office
by Seth Arenstein
By now you’ve seen articles suggesting how PR pros can adjust to working from home. In short, the suggestions attempt to make your home office feel relatively close to your company's office. For example, it's recommended that PR pros:
- set up regular work hours
- have a pre-work routine (wash, make the bed, drink coffee, put on shoes and socks etc)
- designate a workspace in at home that's separate from your living space
- carve out a regular lunch period
- take periodic breaks
- avoid doing personal, non-related work tasks during work hours
Those suggestions deal with the conscious self. What about the unconscious? How can you 'convince' your body that it's working in the office, despite never leaving home?
One tip is to trick several of your senses, says Ashley Perkins, director of digital content at Sachs Media Group. Below are a few ways to do that.
Awaken Your Senses Through Sound
Research suggests that ambient background noise can improve focus and help PR pros maintain energy throughout the workday. Perkins tells us that when she sits down in her home office, she turns on one of her favorite rotational Pandora 'work' stations. Those she highly recommends include: Chill Out, Downtempo, and Electronic Ambient.
In addition, she finds instrumental music — without lyrics — is especially good when working on projects that require a lot of creative or strategic thinking.
On the flip side, podcasts or music with lyrics can help when you need to complete more mundane tasks, Perkins says.
More Ear Candy
Beyond music, here's another tip: If you miss the sounds that the hustle of the office create, YouTube has videos of ambient noise. To get PR pros started, Perkins recommends:
It Smells Like The Office
Perkins also is a fan of aromatic scents, which, she says, can influence mood, concentration, and energy levels. When she’s overwhelmed or begins feeling an afternoon slump approaching, Perkins often lights her favorite candle or incense. This helps her regain a sense of calm and focus. There's a bonus: “my home smells amazing.”
We know, the above 'tricks' will take you only so far. Perkins has you covered. An introvert, Perkins says she “can easily spend hours by myself and be perfectly content.” She realizes, though, not all PR pros are like her.
For extroverts, or anyone seeking the mix of ideas and inspiration that huddling with colleagues brings, Perkins suggests chat platforms such as Slack.
In addition, Slack offers a video call feature, so you can have face-to-face conversations with up to 15 people at a time. You can do even more with Slack's paid plan, Perkins says.
Ad Council PSA Series Seeks to Offer Timely, Clear Information on COVID-19
by Sophie Maerowitz
The Ad Council's partnership with media and government organizations for a series of coronavirus PSAs aims to quickly reduce public confusion and offer authoritative information, the Ad Council's president/CEO tells PRNEWS.
“There’s a lot of misinformation out there...[and] many people are confused about what they can and should be doing," Ad Council chief Lisa Sherman says. "Our goal is to quickly communicate verified, trusted information from the CDC directly to audiences...through various media channels and platforms.”
The PSAs will target particularly “high-risk populations,” as well as the general public. Users will be directed to coronavirus.gov for updated information and directives.
Media will donate air time and space on other platforms to run the content. For years, the Ad Council has created memorable PSAs for government organizations, for-profit sponsors and nonprofits.
Partners mentioned in the Ad Council’s announcement include:
- The White House
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
- Major media networks and digital platforms, including ViacomCBS, The Atlantic, iHeartMedia and ABC/WaltDisney Television
Supplied by the CDC and NBCUniversal in English and Spanish, the Ad Council’s extensive coronavirus messaging toolkit includes assets for social media, scripts tailored to television and audio, press release templates and social media copy, graphics and videos.
PR pros, some of whom also handle advertising, likely will find this boilerplate useful as they communicate uniform, health authority-approved messaging.
The Ad Council has considered that assets may need to be updated as knowledge around the virus shifts. “As information changes, we’ll continue to work closely with experts at the CDC to ensure our messaging is accurate, vetted and up-to-date,” Sherman adds.
The gathering of media monoliths and government entities was no small undertaking. But it was necessary to centralize urgent communications resources, Sherman argues. “Coalitions are imperative. Right now, speed and public trust are everything, and they’re not two easy things to combine. The only way we’re going to get verified, trusted information out to the greater public at scale is by working together.”
A Unified Effort
Within the first few days of the pandemic, Sherman said, a large number of companies, communications and marketing leaders reached out to the Ad Council to pool services, channels and platforms.
Sherman said there was an unprecedented level of collaboration between all involved. And while each media company requires a distinct strategy, the Council succeeded in brokering and producing brand-agnostic creative, making it customizable for communicators at any type of organization.
“The lesson is this: partnerships are key. Typical roles and responsibilities don’t exist anymore. Let people help where they can. Create open-source briefs and tips so that anyone with a platform can help spread your information,” Sherman advised.
March 17, 2020
Most People Getting Virus Info from Mass Media but Want Employers to Communicate Too
by Seth Arenstein
How often have you heard a variation of the phrase “Everything’s changed” over the past few days? Since a basic rule of communications is to know your audience, a good rule of thumb is to look at survey data to help gauge attitudes, inform message creation and highlight opportunities. We took a look at several to see how the American public and businesses are handling the current crisis climate.
Concern But Less Action
It’s to no one's surprise that Americans are concerned with coronavirus. The latest Harris Poll found 86 percent of respondents are worried most about older friends and relatives; and 84 percent are concerned about the virus’s influence on the economy. But just 65 percent of respondents were worried about their own health.
Despite 74 percent saying they’re concerned about “accidentally spreading the virus,” a slight majority (58 percent) “have not changed how much they’re having people over” and 50 percent have not changed “hygiene behavior when having people over to their home.”
The Harris survey seems to indicate communicators need to be sensitive in their messaging. In addition, they have an opportunity, perhaps a duty, to offer links to COVID-19 safety procedures.
Basic Shopping Habits Unchanged
DISQO conducted two surveys, one from Feb. 29 to March 2 and March 7 to 9. It compared what people were searching for and buying during the two periods.
As expected, COVID-19-related searches jumped 60 percent from the first survey to the second. Cleaning supply purchases rose 32 percent, and personal health sales rose 24 percent.
While nearly half (46 percent) made purchases in response to COVID-19, 67 percent said their basic shopping habits did not change fundamentally. That finding should inform communicators’ messaging, which may evolve as the crisis continues.
Turning to National News Media and Employers
APCO’s survey of 1,000 adults found the national news media was the leading source of virus information (58 percent). It topped the CDC (28 percent), social media (27 percent), the White House (10 percent) and employers (8 percent). Only about one quarter of workers expected to hear messages from company leaders (27 percent).
That’s likely to have changed since the March 5 poll. In an interview, APCO Insight senior director Chrystine Zacherau tells us she expects staff to turn to employers more. Employers, she says, “have practical and personal relevance...their role in providing information from facts about the outbreak to work policies to personal support” will increase.
Internal Communications' Role
As such, Zacherau says, “Internal communicators and HR must adapt to address the disruption that the 60 percent [of staff] expect in the workplace." Providing daily information updates and two-way communication channels are among best practices for corporate communicators, she added.
In fact, Zacherau believes in “this heightened state of concern, it is the obligation of employers and external communicators" to support their employees and the public.
Similar to APCO's finding, an Edelman Trust Barometer survey of 1,000 people in 10 countries, including the U.S., said 64 percent of respondents are turning to major media for virus information. Still, Edelman argued, staff want to hear from employers. In addition, they consider internal communications a trusted source, according to the survey, conducted March 6 to 10.
Inside the PR Biz
Looking internally at the communications business, Peppercomm and The Institute for Public Relations (IPR) surveyed 300 communicators March 5 to 10. Not surprisingly, they found 83 percent are “moderately” or “extremely” concerned about the virus's potential impact on their companies.
Often the overlooked aspect of PR, internal comms received a boost. Eighty-one percent said communicating to employees is “essential” or “high” priority, besting communication with customers (66 percent).
In addition, 57 percent said their legacy crisis plan included infectious diseases, 44 percent said it did not. Just 30 percent said their organizations were “very” prepared to handle the virus; 55 percent said they were “somewhat” prepared.
Steve Cody, Peppercomm's CEO/founder, was “pleasantly surprised" that 57 percent of plans included infectious diseases. "At the same time, I was shocked to learn that 10 percent had NO crisis plan whatsoever...that’s dereliction of duty on the part of the senior communications professional.”
March 16, 2020
CEOs Pledge to Donate Salaries to Preserve Jobs
by Nicole Schuman
Many communicators are working overtime to deliver messaging to consumers and citizens during these turbulent times. Still, many businesses may take a financial hit as the stock market plunges and the public is urged to stay home. As companies slice budgets, marketing and communications usually are some of the first to downsize.
To counter job cuts, Matt Rizzetta of North 6th Agency urges fellow CEOs to take a 50 percent pay cut through at least the end of QII 2020. The COVID CEO Pledge urges agencies to keep funds in reserve to preserve staff jobs.
"Taking the pledge will send the right message to our employees, our industry and the broader global business community: We leaders are willing to take a short-term salary cut in order to preserve or stimulate job growth in our industry during this delicate period in which our people face so much uncertainty and potentially lasting financial consequences," he said.
Leaders are stepping up. "We've already received pledges totaling several million dollars in annualized salaries," he said.
Employees Demand Clear Communication on Paid Leave
by Nicole Schuman
Over the weekend, brands sent a wave of communications to customers—via email, social media, and the mainstream media—around closing up brick-and-mortar shops as government leaders attempt to halt the spread of COVID-19.
Patagonia, Nike, Apple and others noted the importance of social distancing. (Apple will reopen stores in Greater China amid a decline in cases.)
"The most effective way to minimize risk of the virus’s transmission is to reduce density and maximize social distance," said Tim Cook, Apple's chief executive, in a statement posted Friday to the company's website.
Apple also said hourly employees at its closed stores will be paid, as well as those needing sick leave.
"We have expanded our leave policies to accommodate personal or family health circumstances created by COVID-19 — including recovering from an illness, caring for a sick loved one, mandatory quarantining, or childcare challenges due to school closures."
Not All Companies are the Same
Unfortunately, this isn't the case for every business. Last week, Whole Foods' CEO suggested employees donate sick time to fellow employees. (Whole Foods has since communicated its two-week paid leave policy on its website.)
Trader Joe’s Union leaders are asking for hazard pay as employees work frenzied shifts in crowded stores. These workers serve as the front line as consumers stock up and hunker down. Many small businesses and service workers seem unsure about paid leave and unemployment benefits with city and state governments closing down restaurants and bars in an attempt to limit gatherings large and small.
Across the country, cities are shutting down. Trader Joe’s needs to provide workers hazard pay starting right now. Crewmembers are terrified, knowing their job is putting them on the frontlines of a global pandemic. It is not enough to receive PTO only after being proven sick.
— Trader Joe’s Union (@TraderJoesUnion) March 15, 2020
This merits clearer messaging about where workers can find information regarding coronavirus paid leave and other benefits from federal, state and city government agencies. Currently, cancellations and closings are broadcast on television, email and social media. Still, it is unclear where employees can go for aid and relief.
As the country waits for the Senate to vote on the House's proposed coronavirus emergency bill, government communicators should create a plan to aid workers who need it most.
Best practices could include:
- Holding press conferences announcing specifics of a relief bill
- Clear, concise language on steps to take
- Launching a central website where workers can apply for benefits
- Social media and direct mail outreach
- Multi-lingual campaigns to include all workers
March 13, 2020
Brands Do Good in Face of Economic Morass
by Seth Arenstein
It’s a new normal for the country. You can consider the health precautions—such as periodic hand washing and social distancing—and the cancellations as burdens. On the other hand (no pun intended), consider the upside: The U.S. is fortunate in that it can benefit from other countries’ experiences, possibly helping to lessen the virus’s impact here.
For brands, a new baseline is also forming. What eventually becomes standard practice in CSR is uncertain, yet trends are coalescing. Some brands are stepping up, others are standing pat, at least for the moment.
Preferring to look at COVID-19 as a great opportunity for CSR, we’ve noticed a bevy of large brands doing good. These kind acts likely earn double reputation points. Doing good is welcome always. Foregoing some revenue in the face of economic uncertainty, now that should really benefit reputation.
Some companies and organizations are doing good internally, others externally. For example, Shopify is giving each of its employees a $1000 stipend to buy supplies to work from home. A church in Maryland voted to continue to pay its musicians despite cancelling worship services.
Companies and organizations acting this way "will see advantages...in the long term," says Deb Gabor, CEO, Sol Marketing. Goodwill, she adds, will extend to them "in spades."
Such actions, adds Amy Power of the Power Group, are becoming table stakes.
On the other hand, brands that are "opportunistic and uncouth...co-opting this disaster for their benefit will find themselves in a world of hurt," Gabor says.
Below a sampling of large brands doing good:
- The NY Times and other media outlets have taken down paywalls blocking coronavirus stories. The Times and USA Today are offering free coronavirus newsletters. LinkedIn also is making certain resources available gratis.
- CVS is waiving its delivery fee on prescriptions. This will allow people who might have the virus, or be at high risk of contracting it, to stay home, per the CDC’s recommendation.
- U-Haul is offering 30 days of free storage to college students who need to quickly vacate their dorms.
- FCC chief Ajit Pai urged internet service providers (ISP) to take measures that ensure customers won't lose their connection despite an inability to pay for it. Some ISPs will offer free internet access to low-income families. In addition, several ISPs will make hot spots available to all.
- Chinese e-commerce billionaire Jack Ma is donating 1 million face masks and 500,000 test kits to the US.
- Several NBA stars are pitching in to help arena employees.
- Amazon is donating $5 million to help small businesses around its headquarters cope with the expected slowdown.
- Similarly, Facebook and Google, among others, are donating funds to help Silicon Valley communities.
- In addition, Facebook will send $20 million to WHO, CDC and the UN Foundation as they battle the virus.
March 12, 2020
Pulling the Plug on Programmatic During Crisis
by Nicole Schuman
One of the most important tactics in crisis communication strategy is reading your audience. And right now, in light of coronavirus, that audience is looking for facts and up-to-date information.
Hopping on Facebook or Instagram and being served an ad for a cruise or an airline does not offer users the information they may be seeking. As of this morning, brands like Qatar Airways and Amtrak still were posting travel ads on social, even though the travel industry landscape has changed drastically in the past week.
Here are a few steps to review and quickly turn around your current messaging strategy.
- Immediately take stock. Audit all messages, paid AND organic, and the channels they are broadcast through.
- Contact your programmatic agency or in-house team or staff who handle paid advertising. Review and edit current programmatic, as well as stop current campaigns (if necessary).
- If you are a solo practitioner go into your native social platform advertising tools and review all campaigns. Make edits where necessary.
- If you lack one, create a social media kill switch that can be deployed during a crisis. Coronavirus is not the first, nor will it be the last. Work with your social media manager or team on what designates a pause in posting.
- Ideate and deliver new content that could be helpful to your audience. Be careful not to pander or stretch messaging. Instead, provide vital information or tips that consumers may find useful. Consult keyword search tools like Google or Parse.ly to see what users are searching for on your site.
- Make sure that content is not paid advertising. Your audience may consider it in poor taste. Place important information where users can see it —a website, blog, Twitter — not just in programmatic advertising.
March 11, 2020
APCO: Americans United, Divided on Virus
by Seth Arenstein
When the coronavirus odyssey began taking hold in the U.S., guidance to PR pros was relatively simple: show concern for employees and external stakeholders, communicate facts only, do so often and accurately, be consistent with messaging, rely on experts for medical information and don’t panic.
At the time many assumed that medical science would supply a uniform message. Brands would relay it. That’s seems a quaint thought now.
For example, some medical professionals believe it’s fine for patients to continue to go to germ-y places like a health club; to others, they're petri dishes for the virus.
250 or 1,000?
It’s hard to know whom to believe and which directions to follow. Some states, like Washington, the U.S. virus epicenter, are banning gatherings of 250 or more people. For other states and towns, the ‘magic’ number is 1,000 people. The mayor of Washington, D.C., for example, today urged “non-essential” events with 1,000 people or more to shutter.
The president has said often the virus will "end quickly." One of his chief scientists, Dr. Anthony Fauci, told a congressional hearing today things will get worse, perhaps a lot worse.
As you will see below, this eclectic pastiche of information has resulted in a somewhat divided populace. Communicators should tailor messages accordingly.
United and Divided We Stand
First, the good news. Nearly all Americans (90 percent) view the virus as “serious,” an APCO Worldwide survey of 1,000 adults shows. Less cohesive are views about contracting the virus. A total of 60 percent is “worried” about getting coronavirus, 40 percent is “not worried” and 24 percent is “extremely worried.” The survey was conducted March 5.
Virus concern is based on economics, APCO says. For example, 83 percent of high earners ($150,000+ per year) see the virus as “extremely” or “very serious.” Those earning $50,000 and below are less likely to see COVID-19 as serious: just 63 percent see it as “extremely” or “very serious.”
National news media is the leading source of virus information (58 percent), besting the CDC (28 percent) and social media (27 percent). The White House (10 percent) and employers (8 percent) are the least common sources of information. Only about a quarter of workers expect to hear messages from company leaders (27%) related to COVID-19.
There’s also a geographic difference. People in the Northeast see the virus as most serious (76 percent see it as “extremely” or “very serious”), with Midwesterners seeing it as least serious (58 percent as “extremely” or “very serious”).
Group Urges 'Fact-Based' Travel with Few Facts
by Seth Arenstein
With postponements and cancellations mounting—the National Association of Broadcasters today said it’s seeking options for its annual Vegas gathering, April 17-22, which pulled $47 million in revenue last year and the NCAA said March Madness will begin sans fans—the impact coronavirus could have on commerce is clear.
Into the fray comes the US Travel Association (USTA). Its 1,100 member-organizations include airlines, hotels, convention centers and other travel-related companies. Should people panic and stop traveling, its members will shrivel.
So, while espousing that “the safety of the traveling public, our guests and our employees is of the utmost importance,” USTA says it wants people to make “calm, rational, and fact-based decisions” about travel.
In a March 10 statement, some members of the group said, “Though the headlines may be worrisome, experts (PRNEWS' emphasis) continue to say the overall coronavirus risk in the U.S. remains low.”
Who are these experts? No sources or links to health sites with this information are included to bolster USTA’s argument. In a statement titled "Fact-Based Travel," it's important to let readers know where they can get medical facts to back up USTA's assertions. And doesn't a decision about travel need to factor in the trip's importance? Is the same risk involved with a pleasure trip as a business trip? Couldn't a flight, for example, risk putting one near someone with the virus?
Source on the Side
The statement continues: “The latest expert guidance indicates that for the overwhelming majority, it’s OK to live, work, play and travel in the U.S. By seeking and heeding the latest expert guidance—which includes vigorous use of good health practices, similar to the preventive steps recommended for the seasonal flu—America’s communities will stay strong and continue to thrive.”
Unfortunately, there’s so much information flying around, it’s hard to know if this advice is accurate. There's no single repository of medical advice. Some experts liken coronavirus to the flu, and others feel this is folly. On a surface level, scientists have studied flu for years. They know it relatively well. Not so with coronavirus.
A larger issue relates to a maxim of PR crisis communication: Stay in your lane. Communicate what you know. Is it wise for customers to get health advice from a travel association?
The rest of the statement seems on surer ground: “The decision to cancel travel and events has a trickle-down effect that threatens to harm the U.S. economy, from locally owned hotels, restaurants, travel advisors and tour operators to the service and frontline employees who make up the backbone of the travel industry and the American economy.”
March 10, 2020
Practice Cyber Hygiene in Your Home Office
by Seth Arenstein
Many PR pros, like those in other sectors, will consider home their office next week as the virus spreads. If that's your plan, the time is now to think about protecting laptops staff use in their home offices, cyber experts say.
One role for communicators is to push messages about the importance of practicing good cyber hygiene.
Rokk Solutions, a bipartisan PR firm in Washington, D.C., recommends starting the hygiene lessons with a series of internal communications to employees outlining the basics of work-from-home security. These include:
- Remote workers should have access to a virtual private network (VPN)
- Two-factor or multi-factor authentication should be enabled for all devices and accounts
- Advise employees to secure their at-home Internet connection and turn off and unplug work devices when not in use
- Alert employees to possible email scams
- Remain up-to-date on all security patches
- Don’t mix work and personal devices
To Go or Not to Go to Big Events
by Seth Arenstein
You have a business trip. Should you stay or should you go? How about an event? Cancel it or allow it to go ahead?
President Trump said he intends to continue to travel and hold rallies. He flew to Orlando today (March 10) for an event. However, there was no rally on his schedule. For weeks Trump's held events opposite the Democrats' primary events. Perhaps he got word that Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden were likely to cancel events.
Throw in the Towel on Rallies?
Is it safe for the president to travel to rallies? A member of the White House coronavirus task force, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, sidestepped the question during Monday's press briefing. It's a "judgment call," he said.
Depending on your opinion about coronavirus, moving ahead with business as usual, including taking business trips, signifies strength. It could embellish your reputation with the public. On the other hand, it could signify the height of foolishness, or worse, a lack of concern for staff and customers.
Either way, communicators must craft the message that explains the choice. Since audience members are seeing extremes--some events are continuing, others are postponed or cancelled — reactions could be heated (see sports story below).
As with all messages, pay attention to word choice and tone. And communicate broadly. People are seeking guidance in this uncertain moment. Government reaction has been uneven; some are offering insight for citizens, others are woefully silent. Brands are filling the void. And don't forget the elderly or other groups that might not have online access or visit Twitter and other sites.
Delta CEO Ed Bastion sent a nicely written missive to 20 million Delta stakeholders on March 9. What can communicators learn from this well-delivered tactic?
- It's comforting, noting Delta’s experience dealing with health issues, such as Ebola and H1N1.
- It's informative. He segues easily into an intro for a separate site that outlines steps Delta is taking to ensure “healthy flying.”
- It's polite to a point. Bastion tap dances around the question of whether you should fly or not. Should you opt out, he alerts customer they can obtain a refund.
- It's honest. Bastion, as you might expect, comes out on the side of moving ahead. “We understand that in today’s world, travel is fundamental to our business and our lives, which is why it can’t – and shouldn’t – simply stop. I believe Delta’s mission of connecting the world and creating opportunities is never more important than at times like this.”
IPR Postpones Bridge, Nixes Virtual Conference
by Seth Arenstein
The Institute for Public Relations postponed its annual conference in Washington, D.C., which welcomes a mix of PR pros and academics known as The Bridge. Scheduled for March 26-27, IPR said it now will be held Nov. 5-6, right after the U.S. presidential election. One-hundred attendees were expected.
“The safety of our attendees and staff was our number one consideration when we decided to reschedule the conference,” IPR chief Tina McCorkindale told PRNEWS. “With so many unknowns about COVID-19,” she continued, “we would rather cancel than have something happen as a result of us holding the event.”
“When making the decision, we focused on what we think is the right thing to do,” McCorkindale said. “We have high-risk attendees and speakers, as well as high-risk family members of attendees and speakers, and we didn't want to risk their health or anyone else's.”
With several organizations and colleges turning to online and other forms of virtual events, we asked McCorkindale about whether or not holding a virtual conference was considered. “This was a no-brainer for us,” she replied. The foundation of the Bridge, she said, resides in the ability to hold “rich discussions throughout the conference as well as [during] the socials and networking breaks.” She added that IPR “didn’t want to diminish the overall experience for our attendees.”
LinkedIn Group Provides Information for Communicators
by Nicole Schuman
PR has come up with an interesting reaction to the virus. Communicating about Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a LinkedIn group for PR and communications professionals to share tactics and strategies around the virus. The group includes "credentialed communications professionals worldwide" sharing best practices on internal and external communications and COVID-19, a description says.
While news about the outbreak is important, the group's purpose is to discuss "strategies, tactics, and messages to help protect the welfare of organizations' businesses, employees and those they serve."
Levick SVP Ian Lipner started the group.
PR pros as well as journalists are welcome to join the quickly-growing, closed group.
Request to join here.
Pro Sports Close Locker Rooms; Ivy B-ball Gone
by Nicole Schuman
Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, the National Basketball Association and Major League Soccer released a joint statement Monday (March 9, 2020) about the organizations' preventative strategies surrounding coronavirus. Teams will close locker rooms and clubhouses to media and non-essential personnel.
Earned media will continue, though. Media access will take place in locations separate from the players' spaces. MLB and the NBA will conduct press conferences with the CDC-recommended six-foot barrier between players and media.
Meanwhile, with March Madness on the horizon, the Ivy League announced the cancellation of its basketball tournament for men and women. The tournaments were to begin this weekend in Boston.
Instead of having four teams compete for the right to go dancing in March, the regular season's first-place teams will advance.
Communicators take note: the Ivy's message was crafted well. The tone was correct as it apologized to fans and players. Still, its content was blasted in some quarters as inconsistent. Groups of fans and coaches are upset since tournaments and games in other college sports are continuing. Those games also could be cancelled, though no official word was given.
In addition, the Ivy League said all out-of-season practices and activities are cancelled and other on-campus sports will employ "highly-restrictive, in-venue spectator limitations."
Plans call for March Madness to begin March 17, though Governor Mike DeWine (R-OH) called today for indoor sporting events in his state to limit or eliminate spectators. DeWine recommended that parents and "essential personnel" only gain entrance to March Madness games in Ohio.
Pro Sports Keep Going
So far no professional sports contests inside the US have been cancelled, or been played without fans. In fact, last Saturday, March 7, 2020, Seattle's MLS team, the Sounders, played a home match that 30,000 fans attended. The team took precautions and urged elderly fans to stay home. Washington is the U.S. epicenter of the virus.
This is in contrast with South Korea and China, where exhibition baseball games are being played to empty stadiums. Italy’s Serie A premier soccer league suspended its season.
Below is the joint statement about the locker room closures:
“After consultation with infectious disease and public health experts, and given the issues that can be associated with close contact in pre- and post-game settings, all team locker rooms and clubhouses will be open only to players and essential employees of teams and team facilities until further notice. Media access will be maintained in designated locations outside of the locker room and clubhouse setting."
March 9, 2020
Inside the PR Pro's Mind as Coronavirus Spreads
by Mallika Tiwari and Seth Arenstein
It’s impossible to predict now, but coronavirus could usher in a highly inward-looking society as more of us fear leaving the safety of our homes. With digital technology making work from home far more common and apps that deliver all sorts of items to your door, we already were embarking on a more insular existence. Prior to coronavirus, you could go weeks without leaving the friendly confines of your apartment.
As the virus is making its way across the country, it seems possible that gig-workers may reshape the economy as they populate what may be nearly abandoned workplaces. Internal communicators, wherever they are working, may need to develop tactics to facilitate interaction with these new staffers.
More Digital Noise
In addition, the communicator’s job could be more difficult as participation in digital communities rises drastically. As workers are told to stay home, the assumption is that people will use Slack, Facetime, Skype and Zoom more often. With anticipated spikes in traffic, communicators are thinking about how to break through what might be an increased amount of traffic. Revisions to social media policies and related guidelines also are on the table.
Engaging Audiences Beyond Face-to-Face
For external communications, PR pros and marketers are realizing the importance of engaging audiences beyond a physical location. The virus has made us realize that we must avoid sole reliance on the ballrooms of large, five-star hotels for events. For the moment, delivery of valuable experiences through a small digital screen has become top of mind.
Fortunately, the idea of creating virtual experiences is one that many communicators have considered for several years. Some are using these technologies. With quarantines, we can anticipate rising use.
In an interview with PRNEWS in 2019, Hunter SVP Michael Lamp discussed technologies that “can solve human problems” and “help us tell better stories.” AR and VR can help communicators and marketers “break down distances ... and deliver experiences to consumers” who are unable visit brand-endorsed venues personally. A virtual tour through a museum is an example.
As the virus spreads, this bittersweet truth of disintegration giving birth to integration will reshape how brands communicate with customers as well as each other.
Help for PR Pros to Start Their Coronavirus Plans
by Seth Arenstein
Where does the communicator start? With panicked stories circulating in the media, employee and customer concerns are rising. Is your communications instilling confidence in them? Does your message make it clear that the company is concerned about employees’ and customers' health? Do you have pre-approved plans to communicate issues?
Have you begun conducting exercises to prepare your crisis team for COVID-19 scenarios? Do you have clearly articulated policies for remote work? How about travel? Have you thought about business continuity or using measurement to arrive at decisions? Who will articulate policies and new iterations of them for coronavirus? Which platforms will you use? Do you have an alert system in place?
We asked T. Garland Stansell, CCO of Children’s of Alabama, the pediatric health system, and the PRSA chair, to provide building blocks for a coronavirus strategic communications plan. His edited remarks are below.
Bring together the right people within your organization with whom to strategize, and make sure you have the facts so you can make informed decisions. Decide with leadership who within the organization is authorized to speak on the topic.
Whatever tactics you use, whether it’s email, phone calls, in-person meetings, social media, press conferences or other means of communication, make sure that your messaging is consistent and that everyone speaks with the same voice.
The news cycle changes by the second. When working with the media make sure you present information that is credible but that doesn’t sacrifice accuracy or your reputation. Communicate early and often. This will help keep the focus on what is happening, and allow you to tailor your strategy as new developments occur.