The New Normal in Public Relations and Marketing

May 13, 2020

Even saying it seems like an oxymoron it’s not exactly normal if it’s completely new. Truthfully, the new normal will be defined by the choices we make today and most importantly tomorrow.

While it’s been said many times, the present experience is
rather unprecedented. We can certainly learn from recent mistakes, but what we
choose to learn and how we choose to change will define the new normal.

But enough of the philosophy. If we focus on one specific topic that of public relations and marketing the question is how will these professionals be changing strategies, communications, and audience perceptions?

One thing that has certainly continued throughout the
COVID-19 pandemic is mass communication. As of April 16, there has already been
more than 38 million pieces of news focused on COVID-19 and 163,000 in just the
last day (that’s one day) across nearly 18,000 news outlets, with 44% of the
news coming from the United States.

That’s a LOT of news. And, as you would expect, reactions
from brands have varied from ultra conservative to very liberal.

Winners and losers

Before we get to the new normal, it’s important to discuss
who some of the winners and losers have been throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
In general, the market and consumers are being forced to embrace a new way of
life that includes virtual meetings, online fitness, food delivery services,
and even telemedicine. At the same time, industries supporting travel, festivals
or conference entertainment, airlines, and hotels have seen a tremendous
decline in stockholder value.

Aside from general financial stability and economics, what’s even more important for public relations and marketing professionals is who are the winners and losers as it relates to communication impacts during the pandemic. Brands that have remained empathetic, relevant and considerate have faired better than their peers.

In an example, Virgin Airlines announced they were using aircraft to help ship healthcare supplies to providers in need. Meanwhile a competitor airline ran ads of their planes “social distancing” and being 6 feet apart.

Needless to say, the latter fell on deaf ears and came
across as insensitive as real people, family and friends were suffering with
COVID.  In a similar tone-deaf scenario,
Corona beer (despite the unfortunate coincidence in their name), launched an
advertisement for their seltzer beers with the slogan: “Coming ashore soon.”

Obviously with the given crisis and the continued spread of
COVID, this advertisement while intended to be playful was ill-timed and came
across as insensitive.

Creating the new normal

While brands struggle to stay relevant, considerate and compassionate during times of a pandemic, one can’t stop to question when we can get back to normal, i.e., the way things were. The unfortunate answer is never.

We must start creating the new normal. As public relations
and marketing professionals, we realize things have changed. With the media
focused solely on the pandemic (and rightly so), many brands have shifted
communications online.

Social media has seen an abundance of activity in online
presence. The digital era can be a blessing or curse to brands depending on how
they engage with their online audience during this pandemic.

As of mid-April, we are just now reaching the peak of the
COVID pandemic in some cities across the U.S. In the throes of a pandemic
brands must be cautious to post social media that is timely, relevant and
considerate of the readers.

Promotional announcements and advertisements will not only
disengage the readers but may turn them away from your brand in the future. As
we move into later phases of the crisis and we see more recoveries and fewer
active cases, brands can reengage on social media in a more promotional manner
but will need to still consider the impact that COVID has had.

Digital marketing’s role

In addition, digital marketing is playing a significant role
during the pandemic. Some brands have decided to invest heavily in digital
marketing as that’s where most audiences are in today’s world.

Depending on the industry, some brands have seen a huge
interest through this channel which is delivering content and ads at lower
costs than during normal times. The key is in the message and communication.
Knowing when, where and how to communicate is critical.

Getting to non-COVID topics

And lastly, what most brands really want to know is when can I talk about something NOT related to COVID? Unfortunately, the answer is likely not for a while.

Does this mean you can’t connect to your audience or
consumers? No. In fact, you should be connecting with your consumers and being
there for future prospects. Now is the time to support current customers and
deliver hope to future consumers.

Build the foundation now

We started this blog by talking about the “new normal.”
Unfortunately, the best crisis communication plan could not have predicted nor
planned appropriately for COVID-19.

However, an attuned, savvy team of public relations and
marketing professionals can help you feel poised and ready to embrace whatever
the future may hold. The communication efforts and media sources used by
companies will forever be changed but the vision and mission of organizations remains
the same and will only grow stronger.

Take this time to build a solid foundation upon which to
blast your value propositions and mission once the world is ready to listen.

Stacy State

Stacy State has nearly 20 years of experience in marketing, communications and product development roles within healthcare at large payers, health IT vendors, and start-up revenue cycle management organizations. Most recently, Stacy led all marketing for Advantum Health to include public relations, event planning, lead generation, brand awareness and content marketing. Prior to joining Advantum Health, Stacy held leadership roles at ZirMed (now Waystar) helping the company grow through three acquisitions, eventually leading to its acquisition by Navicure. Stacy also spent 10 years at Humana, where her last role was developing campaigns and content for closing gaps in care and improving STARS scores. Stacy holds a bachelor's degree in sociology from the University of Kentucky and a master's in business administration from Indiana University. Stacy is also a certified project management professional (PMP) and maintains her health and life insurance license.