How Program Review & Planning Should Change for the Coronavirus Era

By Amanda Munroe, Senior Vice President

As we move forward with the second half of the year, we’re beginning to enter what is traditionally a busier time for PR.

In previous years – pre-global pandemic – August was often a month of reflection and planning. It was a time to evaluate a program’s success and challenges before launching into new efforts in the final quarter of the year—the final push for product launches, campaigns and budget planning for the upcoming year.

This year is obviously considerably different. We’re six months into the Coronavirus pandemic and a crushing economic outlook. While debate varies on the expectations for the fall and early winter of 2020, we can predict that a hotly contested election and continued fight against COVID-19 will take center stage and impact businesses, communities and government.

While this August may seem like a good time to hunker down in preparation for a challenging end of year, the opposite is what any company should do. August 2020 is the perfect time to uphold the tradition of scrutinizing external PR and communications programs and planning for results over the next five months.

Since we’re in unprecedented times, however, program review and planning should take on new elements as well. Now is a good time to:

  • Evaluate the crisis comms plan – Whether it’s company downsizing, employee health, succession planning, shaky stock prices or a different unexpected incident, a variety of scenarios need to be incorporated into a company’s crisis comms plan, many of which may not have been included before COVID-19 but should be evaluated, challenged and agreed upon before the start of the fall season.
  • Schedule media training – Spokespeople today face new questions that require additional preparation and practice, including diversity and inclusion commitments, COVID-19 sanitization and employee protection policies, work from home procedures, overall business health and global company policies. Now is the perfect time to create messaging around new questions and train spokespeople ahead of the upcoming media blitz season.
  • Revamp SEO and digital marketing campaigns – Consumer behavior has changed because of the pandemic and will continue to evolve. SEO and digital marketing campaigns that worked before may not work now. Before spending time and money planning and executing paid programs, companies should take this time to get a refresh of the competitive landscape, an audit of online channels, and a review of keywords and search trends among other factors.
  • Infuse earned media with creativity – Securing earned media will become increasingly difficult over the next five months of the year. With the media focused on the upcoming election, the continued fight against the pandemic, flu season and the upcoming holiday season (or potential lack thereof), brands will be fighting for airtime with journalists. Now is the perfect time to explore new angles for the upcoming months, with an eye on how businesses are impacting socio-economic factors like quality of life, health, jobs, mobility, equality, and sustainability. This is also a great time to kickoff data campaigns, using August and September to gather data and write impactful data reports that will give any story legs.
  • Evaluate KPIs and measurement – With the current economy, businesses of all sizes are reducing spend and exercising caution when approving expenses for the rest of the year. This proves a great opportunity to revamp marketing and PR metrics to ensure the programs are showing business value to executives, boards and investors. Whether it’s mapping earned media coverage to sales conversions, measuring website traffic from specific social media channels and social content, understanding the content that performs the best or putting dollar amount/value to each tactic, today and tomorrow’s KPIs need to focus on revenue, lead generation and business objectives.

Across the country, businesses of all sizes and in all industries feel a sense of trepidation when looking ahead to the rest of the year. While no one can predict the outcome of the next five months, executives and marketers can better prepare for what lies ahead by thinking strategically about their external communications programs and relying on their agency partners to help push the business forward.

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