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Why Public Relations Can Make or Break Your Reputation During COVID-19

Updated: Sep 29, 2020

Public Relations Meaning
Public Relations in Canada During COVID-19

Public relations (PR) is integral to many public figures and companies. As a consumer, you may not always be aware when PR is being used, but this subtly is what makes it so effective. But what exactly is PR?

Public Relations Meaning:

Public relations is defined as the practice of managing and releasing the spread of information, whether it is for a public figure or a company.

One of the primary goals of PR is to uphold or enhance reputation and this can be achieved through strategically planned communications activities. Ultimately, PR professionals focus on reputation management and gaining earned media, which is when the press talks about your company without having to pay them to do so. Credible third party endorsements create positive positioning for personal and corporate brands and increases relevancy.

While Public Relations has always been an important aspect of successful businesses, its importance has been amplified with the COVID-19 pandemic. More than ever, consumers are paying closer attention to how brands are communicating. Consumers around the world have gained a new outlook on brands, they believe that brands have an obligation to step up and lead by example during these challenging times, according to Forbes.

The way organizations communicate during a crisis with PR techniques can make or break a company. With the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down entire sectors for a time, businesses and companies have been faced with financial hardships, with some having no choice but to terminate or furlough employees. This has resulted in negative press for some companies, which could be countered with reputation management tactics delivered with the help of PR experts.

An article by CNBC highlights how companies have reacted to COVID-19 and who acted in the interests of their employees. For some of these companies, the negative press surrounding their decisions needed a response developed by PR professionals with reputation management expertise.

Good and Bad PR During COVID-19

Public figures and companies have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic in different ways, and while some have been able to gain positive exposure for their communication and efforts, others have been called-out for their tone-deafness.

The examples below illustrate how crisis communications can be managed or mismanaged, impacting reputation accordingly.

Starting with the good, the COVID-19 pandemic has created an array of opportunities for companies to give back during times of need. In one example, The Vertex Foundation made a $50,000 donation to Food Banks Canada in an effort to tackle food insecurity during the pandemic. In another example, local Toronto restaurants have been donating food to frontline health workers in an effort to express gratitude for their hard work.

To add on to that, local fashion designers and apparel brands have also joined in to help. As reported by the CBC, these companies and individuals have pivoted their businesses to create protective equipment for frontline health workers, who were experiencing a shortage in Toronto hospitals.

What do these examples have in common? These acts of generosity and community engagement have tremendous PR value. Whatever their motives were, the public will still see these decisions as being beneficial to those in need, and will likely deliver a reputation boost for these companies. Authenticity is paramount in these situations, to avoid being perceived as opportunistic.

Now with the bad. This example demonstrates that PR communications strategy must consider all aspects of the situation. Conflicting or contradicting messages can result in a PR crisis. Instacart, the grocery-delivery service, issued a statement that echoed many other companies, stating that they value the health and safety of their employees. Meanwhile, Instacart employees were planning to strike due to the company not providing safety equipment. This caused outrage, rather than goodwill.

In another case of bad PR, some influencers and social media figures have been criticized for being tone-deaf and during the COVID-19 crisis. In a PR Week article, the example of Arielle Charnas was cited. The influencer and owner of clothing company Something Navy, allegedly posted about testing positive for COVID-19, and then violated the 14 day self-isolation mandate by travelling to the Hamptons, which caused anger among her followers. This also prompted Nordstrom, to dropping her label.

According to Forbes, PR is more important than ever during a pandemic. This is due to the fact that media consumption has spiked with individuals having to stay at home and quarantine. Companies can demonstrate to their stakeholders about the actions they are taking to support others during these challenging times.

Reputation management during a pandemic is important, especially given that Ernst and Young found that 79 percent of companies are not very-well prepared for a crisis event.

The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that reputations can be enhanced, or reduced when consumers are paying much closer attention to the companies that they follow. PR can play an important role in affecting your company’s reputation, as highlighted from the examples above. It is important to have a PR crisis management plan, as you can never predict when the next crisis could come.

Public Relations Specialist in Canada

How Bulletproof Can Help. Bulletproof is a communications agency that provides training services to help individuals and organizations communicate more effectively. Our team consists of strategists, trainers and journalists who understand the media and the importance of PR in advancing your organization’s business objectives.

Bulletproof is led by Tara McCarthy who has over 20 years of experience in building reputations and managing crises. Our team can train you or your company in PR strategies to enhance or maintain your company’s reputation.

If you or your company would like to learn more about how you can benefit from strategic PR communications, please do not hesitate to contact us. We can provide media training, communication strategy, planning and much more.


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