Managing Director @ The Tag Experience | New York Times Best-Selling Author | Former Editor in Chief of Ocean Drive Magazine | Dad
Every morning when I open up my social media feeds, I’m inundated with people and companies doing great work — donating masks, delivering food, dropping off supplies. Amid a global pandemic, there’s always a silver lining. In a world of disarray, it’s important to focus on the positives as well.
Working from home is a different world — no commute, no 9-to-5 culture. Each morning, I’m out of bed and making the kids breakfast, walking the dog and ready for my company’s 9 a.m. Zoom calls. After that, it’s client calls all day plus managing a stay-at-home quarantine world for my kids, which can be a balancing act until 11 p.m. until they go to sleep. (Okay, fine. During quarantine, I let them stay up till midnight.)
And while the world around us has changed and our office culture and systems have adapted, the clients that we represent never once said: “You can take it easy.” For them — and we are lucky to have a very diversified clientele — they have a vision and a strategy they needed to continue. Just like the rest of us, they were affected by the changing world, but just like us, they needed to keep going.
We needed to help our clients now more than ever. But they’d no longer be speaking at conferences on stage in front of thousands of people. They’d no longer be in the studio for a live TV appearance. Photoshoots aren’t happening, interviews aren’t in person, and reporters aren’t stopping by for a chat. So we needed to quickly change our direction, advice and strategy with keeping the ultimate goal in mind. We couldn’t change our mission, but we did have to do a Pivot 2.0. We had to be us, now more than ever.
Here are five ways our company was able to assist our clients even more when Covid-19 hit the fan:
Stay in your lane.
PR firms specialize in getting press and controlling messaging. There was no room, no time and no bandwidth for us to pivot to anything else (though I’ll bet I could design a mean mask). We had clients putting the pressure on us to deliver more, faster, and with less content. Did our clients want philanthropic messaging? Yes. Did they want to make donations? Yes. It was our job to stay the course on their day to day but also maintain a sense of urgency to react quickly. We could not become anything other than what we were: a PR, marketing and branding agency.
Stress to clients that every word counts.
We are very lucky to have clients with the ability to help. We began assisting in messaging and philanthropic efforts and also talking over precautions that needed to be taken. The world is on edge: Every word counts, and the wrong messaging can obviously do more harm now than ever. We sent out a list of “do’s and don’ts” to several clients. “Do this!” and “Don’t do that!” is obvious to us, but not always to others. Mistakes happen, but they don’t have to. We were very clear from day one that the world was watching now more than ever.
Don’t overlook the obvious.
Have you ever had to tell a client to put on a collared shirt? As a Miami-based firm, we have to do it all the time. But in a world of quarantine, those instructions became more prevalent, especially as our clients substituted in-studio TV appearances for bedroom office Zoom recordings. “Put on a collared shirt. Shave. Brush your hair. Make sure there is proper light. Test your computer’s audio. Make sure you have a good background. Check your internet connection. Use headphones.”
See where I’m going with this? All of those production notes are things the TV station usually handles for you. That golden spotlight from CNBC? Gone. The lav mics from Fox News? Not there. The giant LED screens in the background on CNN? Now it’s your bookshelf. Most clients — especially CEOs — are not focused on this stuff. They know what they know, and everything else is up to you. Even five months into the pandemic, you should still be making sure your clients have the proper Zoom information for any online interviews or speaking opportunities, and that no inappropriate books, photos or messaging is in the background.
Provide some extra guidance.
Sometimes tough conversations need to be had, whether it’s combing through a CEO’s social media scroll from 2014 or just picking up the phone to guide them on some topics that might be touchy.
During this time, we advised clients to send all social media posts to us prior so we could check for timing, relevance and insensitivity.
It’s probably not in your contract to go the extra mile, but it’s part of a crisis PR format that we’ve undertaken that’s now standard during the current climate.
Be on the lookout.
For food and beverage clients, compliance spotters are constantly looking to call out restaurants doing something wrong. Whether it’s customers not wearing masks or restaurants not practicing social distancing, tricky regulations were quickly established that some had a tough time complying with. Always make sure to check in and see that everything is “kosher.”
Our financial clients have to worry about compliance. PPP loans and state grants can, on one hand, keep your business afloat, and the next day be a headline nightmare. Every move your clients make is of relevance to you.
My company is a little more than two years in. This was the first test of our might and values. Did we need to help? Yes. Did we need to give? Yes. Did we do everything we could? I like to think we did. Did we change and abandon our clients to do something else? No. We are with them, as we always have been.
These are unprecedented times. Hopefully, as a leader, you have been through challenging, stressful and war-room types of situations. Your client is lucky to have you if you can be the face of calm in the middle of a crisis.
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Author: Jared Shapiro, Forbes Councils Member