PR for the New Normal: How to adapt your PR strategy for the COVID-19 outbreak

Deepaa Doshi, an Indian travel industry veteran with a demonstrated history of working in the leisure, travel & tourism industry, shares her take on how to handle PR in a COVID world.

The current situation has transformed the way we live, love, work and do business. And in the midst of it all, destination marketing & PR organisations are taking stock and rapidly evolving their game. With headlines about the coronavirus dominating the news, it’s challenging to develop marketing and PR plans in a silo without factoring in the virus-induced new normal. Everything that you did before has to be handled differently now; however, there are still things that savvy companies can do during these uncertain times without having to deviate too much from their primary goal of being successful and profitable.
I’m going to outline my thoughts on what this means for PR and how we can move forward to be as productive as possible.

Tip #1 Be where your customers are and adapt your communication accordingly on social media
Locked up at home, people are unsurprisingly glued to their computers and smartphones more than ever. Not only that, but they’re feeling bored, stuck-up, alone, and uncertain. It is important to engage with your audience and put up content that caters to their likes and needs rather than just feed them brand promotion content. To put it simply, “Speak what they want to hear”. In the past few months, we all have virtually travelled to our favourite destination as various tourism boards got your favourite attraction to your doorstep. As we saw the idea of Home Chef reaching new heights, few destinations were seen getting their Master Chefs live to share the recipes that gets the audience yearning for more. The master craftsman of the kitchen subtly creates a (future) desire in their hearts to experience first hand the brand and the destination. So, think critically about how to tell your story

Tip #2 Never stop communicating and be ready to bounce
It is important to be in constant touch with your trade partners, friends, media, or agents at times like these. You may not be directly selling your end product but just keeping up with the industry trends and explore innovative concepts. This diligent investment of time and efforts will help you subconsciously become their top-of-the-mind recall. Despite the travel restriction, the relationship between the trade and tourism boards have been growing stronger and closer than ever before. The representative or PR agencies have been busy conducting webinars, and engaging in an outreach program through newsletters to update its TG about situations, hygiene and safety measure to build trust and show that they care about the concerns of its TG. I believe that brands have an opportunity right now to create brand recognition for themselves. Don’t get me wrong: The current crisis is challenging to navigate. But I’ve experienced this opportunity first hand — from the consumer side. I have developed new loyalty to brands that have connected with me in a new way. So, connect the relevant message with the right audiences.

Tip #3 Go Beyond Media Relations
A savvy PR expert will help brands curate a media presence in a strategic manner that emphasizes transparency and promotes the human element. Potential customers/ travellers/or clients want to hear about relatable real-life experiences more than the commercial messaging about the brand/destination sprinkled aimlessly across dozens of websites and publications. In other words, build deep rooted canals to their hearts instead of a superficial bridge.
In a Coronavirus world, people look up to influencers and leaders they trust, to help them navigate through these challenging times. They are now convinced about a place, product, or service endorsed by an influencer. Through such a strategy, the destinations with no travel restrictions are effectively using prominent faces to drive down the safety measures that they have put in place to attract their prospects.
Travel PR, as with all PR sectors will become more creative in its approach. It is no longer just about the destination and the venue but about feelings, experiences and lifestyle.

Tip #4 Know the news cycle / Know your Target Media
For many publications across the globe, media resources have been overwhelmed covering COVID-19. This has meant that in some cases, reporter beats have shifted. There have been some drastic lay-offs across media houses, leading to cross-reporting across the beats by the existing journalists as well as handling of more than one new beat by the currently employed ones.. For example, the scribes who earlier covered sports may now be contributing to the news or feature desk. It is important to keep yourself updated with every movement in the industry.
Industry publications are still prioritizing the pandemic angle, travel policies, and destination updates but parallelly they are still very much keen on featuring regular news, which is often more than general news sites and dailies put together. For example, we worked with a client in the virtual event space and announced the first of its kind virtual wedding show during the coronavirus pandemic and we generated over 30+ stories not only in the travel trade but even the consumer segment.
Media coverage is only one means to an end from a wide array of initiatives that a seasoned PR firm can offer. Going forward, travel will become less frivolous and more experimental.

Tip #5 Plan for action
I would suggest brands to be more proactive rather than reactive. A good promotional strategy helps in creating a positive image thereby gaining the client trust. The communication should focus on gaining credibility and being seen in positive light, so that, as soon as the situation improves, the inner calling that has been gradually build in the traveller’s mind for a particular brand or destination, starts translating into actual footfalls.

COVID-19 has changed the world for many people. PR and marketing pros who successfully adjust to the new environment will be better positioned to promote their organizations and strengthen their brand’s reputation over the long term.