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April 8, 2020

How Brands (and Our Clients) are Strategically Navigating COVID-19

written by

Lizbeth Alvarez

Public Relations Coordinator

As COVID-19 continues to spread, millions of people are striving to #StayHome to flatten the curve. Throughout this pandemic, the MarComm world has faced an interesting set of circumstances. Communications pros in particular are hustling to stay on top of evolving guidance from trusted organizations, all while providing clients with recommendations to best serve their businesses, stakeholders, customers and audiences.

For some of us, it seems as if we’ve been working from home (WFH) for months on end, but the truth is, we’ve likely been self-isolating for less than a month. We spend our days at home checking Slack, monitoring the news, scouring social media and keeping in contact with our clients, all while producing public-facing communications about the pandemic and more. Everyone seems to be collectively spending more time online. In fact, according to ComScore, a leading media measurement and analytics firm, average daily in-home mobile phone data usage grew by more than 50 percent from last year. For many of us, it’s safe to say that our home wifi networks and cell phones are getting a little more love than usual.

There’s no doubt that we’re spending more time reading content online, but how are the brands that we follow, and manage, navigating through this pandemic?

It was only a few weeks ago that our inboxes started blowing up with coronavirus-related emails from all of our favorite brands (even the ones for which we swore we’d hit “unsubscribe”). Since that initial wave of emails, a lot has changed. Brands are now adapting to what is being called the “new normal.”

Strengthen connections with your audiences

This “new normal” way of living has created an endless shift in communications best practices. Whether it’s comms in the tourism or healthcare industries, evolution is inevitable – especially during a pandemic. We’ve seen change happen in a matter of days and sometimes, even hours. What successful brands have realized is that despite messaging shifts, content needs to continue to be about the audience.

Continue to create something that’s worth sharing, whether it’s inspiring, entertaining or educational. Right now, content is not about a continuous pitch, it’s about helping others by providing them with news, education, activities or maybe just putting a smile on people’s faces.

Our client, the Regional Emergency Medical Services Authority (REMSA), is a prime example when it comes to educating and providing resources for the community. Now more than ever, the community is leaning on healthcare resources and professionals to educate themselves on proper procedures and safety measures to ensure they are staying as healthy as possible.

As an essential business and a trusted healthcare resource, REMSA is informing the community online through its social media updates and has communicated through its website banner notifications and dedicated COVID-19 webpage. We work with REMSA to help post important updates for the community so they can stay updated on important COVID-19 related news, including critical information on the Washoe County/REMSA Community Triage Line.

Thank you, REMSA. for always being ready for any situation.

Don't social distance from your audience

For many of us, it’s the first time (and hopefully the last time) we experience extreme social distancing like we are now. This pandemic has shown us that when we don’t have physical social interactions, we look to fill that void through online communities. While some events are being canceled or postponed, some brands have decided to adapt to the new digital space and reach a broader audience.

But what happens when your client is in the tourism industry? For our safety, parks, beaches and museums are closed. Travel is largely restricted, and people are focusing on staying home instead of going out. The answer is constantly changing, and unfortunately there is no playbook that tells us what will happen next or how we should address it. The best way to prepare is to coordinate, collaborate and show, don’t just tell.

Social media has become a messenger for brands. During these challenging times, we need to bring our communities together and focus on delivering appropriate messages. At some point, we will be able to travel and enjoy a glass of wine with our friends in person, not just over Zoom. So instead of telling, show your audience this and continue to build a stronger relationship with them.

Our client, Santa Maria Valley, is known for treating guests like family. What better way to keep our friends and family connected than by creating a virtual escape to the region through our social media channels. Our “See a sip, take a sip” challenge on social media strives to keep the community together by sharing one thing we all have in common: our love for wine.

Santa Maria Valley is using their bi-weekly email newsletter to help people infuse a little #SantaMariaStyle into their social distancing. Usually, the newsletter promotes upcoming events and seasonal attractions, but we’ve worked with Santa Maria Valley to shift the focus to recipes, wine pairings, informational blog posts, virtual winery tours and more to help people stay connected to the brand from home.

Caring for others on and offline

One thing we’ve learned from observing this pandemic is to always look for the good. We’ve been inspired by the dedication of medical workers, communities coming together to make PPE amidst shortages, and people coming together to support small businesses across the country. Friends are convening on Google Meet and checking in on neighbors. In a sea of bad news, small acts of kindness have become a lighthouse on the shore.

One of our clients, Project Worth, is a State-funded problem gambling awareness and recovery effort. The website,, connects Nevadans struggling with gambling addiction to five state-funded treatment centers throughout the state, as well as national call, text, and chat helplines. Website visitors can take the interactive, self-assessment quiz to learn the warning signs of a gambling addiction and their risk factors. Then, they can immediately connect to their nearest resource if necessary.

Unfortunately, Nevadans who struggle with gambling problems may now face increased stress from loss of income, more loneliness and boredom, which can lead to an increase in gambling, specifically online gambling, as gaming devices across the state have closed. The forced break may also encourage some gamblers to reevaluate their situations, and take a closer look into treatment options.

To address these concerns and continue providing free and low-cost help, the recovery counselors at the problem gambling treatment centers have worked to shift from in-person counseling to virtual care. They are making use of HIPAA-compliant video conferencing and phone services. Because of the shift to virtual care, treatment centers can now extend recovery options to rural Nevadans, who may not have had easy access to a treatment center before.

Communicate and connect appropriately

This unprecedented situation will change the status quo. The normal we had before might not be the same when this is over, but we will eventually travel, enjoy dinner with friends, celebrate, play sports and more. In the meantime, don’t forget that your client’s or company’s brand values are just as important in and out of quarantine. Communicate and connect with your audience, and if you’re stuck, go back to the drawing board and make timely adjustments, no matter what industry you’re in. There are always ideas and creative ways to help you stay engaged with your online community safely and appropriately.

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