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With the situation in the North American auto industry changing virtually every hour, it is an especially challenging time for PR and communications professionals working for automotive suppliers and mobility technology providers.
In talking with our clients and PR colleagues from around the world – including some markets that are now beginning to recover from their coronavirus crisis – here are a few tips that can help you navigate the uncharted seas ahead:
Be respectful of your customers and their most pressing concerns. Most of your customers and prospects are stretched to their limit and are focused on the health and safety of their employees, in sanitizing their plants so they can get them running safely when the time is right, and ultimately, in meeting their customers’ demands. With that in mind, now may be the worst time to try to sell them something new. You may want to wait until they are out of crisis mode and more receptive to messages before you start trying to launch new products.
Be aware what national and local business media are covering. Most of the local and national business reporters are focused on all COVID-19, all the time. So it is probably not the best time to pitch them on non-COVID-related stories. When things settle down a little, however, they may be looking for some relief from coronavirus stories, so keep your finger on the reporters’ pulses.
Avoid lame attempts to tie your product to the COVID crisis … like some of these people featured in the “Bad PR Pitch: Coronavirus Edition”. They will only damage your company’s and your own reputation with reporters.
Forget trying to pitch in-person media interviews or press events for the immediate future. No one wants to endanger their health or that of their families for a face-to-face meeting or interview, even if it is with your CEO. This is the time to use online/virtual tools.
Check receptivity with your trade media contacts. Many of them may still be interested in your news. Many reporters are working from home and have more time to consider your news because they are not traveling or attending press events. They still need to be productive and fill those pages with good newsworthy content.
Strategize alternate ways to conduct your product launch … or media interviews that were tied around a trade or auto show that has been cancelled. Do you postpone your effort until the event is re-scheduled for next fall? Do you conduct a virtual press conference online instead of waiting that long? Ask questions and plot out a few options, as the situation is likely to continue to change for a while.
Look ahead at May and June events. If you have planned a new product launch at a May or June event, start looking at Plan B and Plan C options now. That way, should show organizers pull the plug, you will not be scrambling at the last minute. If the situation in Asia is any guide, it could be several months before things get back to some semblance of normal.
If things are slow, use this slower time to upgrade … your skills, your tools, your deliverables. Sharpen your skills with webinars. Update your website; improve your online newsroom; add a pandemic section to your crisis PR plan; update your fact sheets, executive biographies and backgrounders; and create and stockpile good content for your social media channels. This will enable you to be stronger and faster so you can hit the ground running, communication-wise, when the crisis is over.
Stay calm, stay safe, be patient and show compassion. Hemingway described courage as grace under pressure.
Be courageous, and remember, we will get through this.
Author: Jim Bianchi
Jim is president of Bianchi PR with 30+ years of B2B PR experience in corporate and agency settings with everything from global automotive and high-tech firms to trade groups and industrial equipment producers.