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By Danielle Harper, Radical Moves PR

When it comes to the business of managing brands, it’s widely accepted that there are three main avenues to communicate with your audience – paid media, earned media and owned media. Advertising represents ‘paid’ media, whereas PR is considered ‘earned’ media. The most recent arrival to the marketing landscape is ‘owned’ media, which gives an organisation the opportunity to strategically deliver content via its own platforms. 

Despite this common consensus, I would suggest that there are really only two approaches to consider – those which dictate the message and those which suggest the message. In fact, the lines between paid, earned and owned media are blurring, certain publications offer paid-for features, and there’s now significant investment required to deliver a wide-reaching social media campaign. 

Regardless of whether marketing has been paid for, I would suggest that a cornerstone of any agency, should be to treat all content as earned media. The inherent value of traditional PR lies in its subtlety, as well as the fact that it’s much more difficult to get a 3rd party to communicate a message on your behalf (without a fee) than it is to pay for ad placement. However, even when paying for media space, a company will still need to earn something – an audience’s time. As the advertising innovator, Howard Luck Gossage, once said; “The real fact of the matter is that nobody reads ads. People read what interests them, and sometimes it’s an ad.”

Considerate Communication

At no point, is tone of voice more important than in the midst of a crisis. Advertising spend is currently falling, as brands shy away from making costly mistakes in communication. After all, the idea that any exposure, is good exposure, could not be further from the truth during a pandemic. We’ve already seen examples of how thoughtless, opportunistic messages can have disastrous consequences for public opinion of brands.

Most business seem to be convinced that this is not the time to promote themselves. It is true, that advertising often reduces complex messages to soundbites and slogans, leaving lots of room for misinterpretation. Therefore, when dealing with an emotional moment in history, using an ‘earned’ media mindset offers an alternative approach to sharing your message. This is just as true for B2B communication as it is for big brands dealing directly with the public, after all – we really are in this together. 

With this in mind, here are 3 ways to think about your message during a crisis.

  1. Keep it in the Public Interest

Companies are made up of individual people. It seems obvious, but this fact is often overlooked within B2B communications. In this climate, an overly corporate tone of voice comes across as impersonal. Make sure that whatever message you’re sharing, it doesn’t put your company ahead of the common good. Many organisations have taken to using platforms to reinforce a government or healthcare messages. While this is an admirable sentiment, you need to make it relevant to your business to avoid virtue signalling. For example, which specific ways can your company support the cause of staying home to save lives? 

  1. Honesty and Clarity

The explosion of social media in the last decade, has resulted in an expansion of online spaces that a company calls its own. During a crisis, fake news spreads fast, and there are no government recommendations for social-media distancing. Ensure that any content you contribute online is based on concrete facts and not on speculation. If there are dangerous rumours or conspiracy theories that relate to your particular industry – 5G coverage for example – consider using your expertise to offer comment in traditional media spaces. This will help the public separate fact from fiction.

  1. Authentic Acts of Kindness:

When it comes to big gestures, companies need to remain strategic. Rather than being motivated by a quick win, put things into a personal context. How would you like to be spoken to during this crisis? Acts of kindness are great but remember that this isn’t your moment in the spotlight. Instead think of it as a genuine opportunity to contribute something positive to your industry. Make sure it’s specific – for example, if you work in sports broadcasting consider a charitable donation to a grass-roots sports initiative. Or if you develop a product which facilitates remote working, create some helpful video tutorials and offer people a free trial to get them started. This shows a commitment to the future of the industry as a whole.

To a certain extent all promotion at the moment, will be a reaction to the current climate. Just ensure that you’re supporting your customer base, rather than selling to them. By working in collaboration with trusted sources of information, companies can deliver useful content rather than pushing a sales pitch. Over time, the value of this message increases, because good PR seeks to engage potential customers in a meaningful, long-term exchange. Managing your company’s tone of voice in trying times is vital. People have long memories, make sure they remember you for the right reasons.