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Public relations firms around the world are used to helping clients with short term PR nightmares or crisis communication issues. But guess what, COVID-19, which is also known as coronavirus, presents an ongoing crisis that is not about to disappear any time soon. While PR firms are paid to plan for and anticipate the unexpected, we're learning that there's quite nothing like a pandemic to throw a spanner in the best laid plans.

As the coronavirus sends shockwaves through personal and professional lives, the temptation to cut communication lines and bury our heads in the sand is understandably high. But like any good businessperson knows, one maxim holds true: Never let a good crisis go to waste.

This is the time to adapt and communicate effectively, as well as identify the kind of preparation needed for future operations and a return to normalcy. Remember, although crises have the ability to bring out the best and worst reactions in people, you make your own PR. It is how you act and operate in the moments that matter that determines how others see you. 

Manage your critics

Criticism, whether resulting from poor handling of the pandemic or unfairly unloaded on your business, could result in a reputational crisis. You should, therefore, first seek to gain perspective. Since no one knows what the future holds, this is not the time to make rock solid plans you are unprepared to change.

Instead, create a crisis communications plan that takes stock of COVID-19 developments and which recommends communications that respond to a variety of different scenarios. Your plan should also indicate how information will be conveyed to internal and external stakeholders (like the public).

Second, you should strive to remain transparent. Don't fuel further uncertainty by throwing about unverified information. Instead, segment your audiences so that you are able to deliver tailored, fact-checked messages to them. Audience segmentation allows you to add a personal touch that shows you care – which can't be easily replicated by broader, more generic messages. 

Monitor the pandemic

This is not the time to be running scheduled, tone-deaf social media marketing or PR campaigns. Instead, pause and reflect. You need to understand what is being said so that you are better prepared to contain any arising negative situation or recognize when the crisis is winding down.

Media monitoring tools can help you understand how your audience is reacting to the crisis, as well as how your brand is responding in traditional and social media. Make sure to cover the trending topics, sentiment, impact by both geography and channel, and key coverage.

By combining news monitoring with social media listening, you can avail yourself a comprehensive measuring tool that informs you how you are reacting to the COVID-19 crisis. And by ramping up your customer service on social media, you can avoid potential firestorms as your clients tweet and direct message you to make cancellations, get refunds, or postpone their commitments. 

Show confidence and leadership

Showing assured and thoughtful leadership in times of uncertainty and crisis will help you build trust and cooperation. How do you accomplish this? By crafting a good narrative and ensuring that your messages remain factual, confident, and consistent.

These messages must carry a sense of purpose and, most importantly, cannot sugar-coat the situation. This does not mean that clients want to be hit with negative messages all the time. As people seek ways to escape from the realities of the pandemic and stay-at-home requirements, the search for positive news online has been on the rise.

Take this chance to indulge your audience with informative, aspirational, and engaging social media marketing and communications. And as more people look to online sources for information and advice they can trust, make sure you remain accessible and visible now – a digital authority even, so you don't have to work to recapture key audiences or reignite media relationships in the future.

If there is one thing the coronavirus pandemic continues to show us, it is that the need for factual, human, and relevant communications is as pressing today as it ever has been. Investing in solid PR, therefore, is the one thing you can do today to better position your business to prosper tomorrow.