B2B companies do well to tread carefully and show tactical flexibility in a severe crisis.
The COVID-19 virus break has confronted the world with a public health crisis of unmatched magnitude. As I am writing this article, both the United States and the Western European countries are scrambling to build up resources that will be needed to treat thousands, no tens of thousands of COVID-19 patients of which it is feared that possibly up to one percent will lose their lives.
B2B companies aspire in the midst of this crisis to continue business as much as possible, for their own good and in the interest of their clients and employees. Continuing B2B media relations buttresses that effort, however, some adjustments will have to be made.
Let’s take a look at what will change and what will remain the same.
In the current severe crisis, small and midsize businesses can use any help they can get to get organized and adapt to the new reality. What can you make available to businesses to help them cope with the challenges at hand? One of the urgent concerns of companies is now to have remote work run smoothly. Several companies, among them Google, Box and GoToMeeting, made special offers available. Cloudflare was one of the companies that offered help and took things even a step further by the creation of a hub where businesses can find all the resources offered by companies. The free offers made at any rate for positive publicity for the companies that did the giving.
Some might advise against communicating yourself on the help you are offering, because it might be better, in the sense of being more credible, to have others do the talking. I do not believe that in these circumstances, companies should show restraint in communicating themselves about what they are doing to help others out. Their news will be treated by journalists as public service announcements.
This does not mean that you should be self-congratulating when talking about the help you are offering. Just let the facts speak for themselves. In your quotes, make sure to not forget that this story is about the businesses you are helping, not you (this advice still stands once the crisis has passed).
If your product or service touches needs that have arisen or become more urgent because of the current crisis (a SaaS cloud storing solution just to give one example), you will be particularly successful.
When communicating about the benefits of the new product of service, it is recommended to show some restraint in linking these to the current COVID-19 outbreak. Your audience will be able to connect the dots for you without the explicit connection and with an audience I mean here of course both the readers of the publication as the journalists. As people are still scrambling to get to terms with the current dramatic events, you do not, at any time, want to be perceived as providing value, not being opportunistic. Your style and tone will help you walk that tightrope.
If you have a service or product that is not related to any specific urgent needs caused by the COVID-19 crisis, you might want to hold off for a little while till the surge in COVID-19 related coverage has somewhat cooled down a little bit.
If you have any important corporate news in terms of mergers, acquisitions, etc. that can not wait to be communicated, you will have no other choice but to communicate. If you are a prominent player in your market, this news will be covered. If there is news that you would like to receive positive coverage on, but it does not have stealth newsworthiness, then you might want to hold off on that for a while.
Clearly, the current crisis will permeate all of your messaging. Companies need to speak not only to how news will affect them but also to how it will affect their clients (and possibly other stakeholders). These different narratives will now need to accommodate for the pressing concerns caused by the crisis. ‘How is your merger going to help you double down on opportunities offered by a growing market’ has suddenly become ‘how is the merger now allowing you to be better equipped to face the headwinds that will come with the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis’?
Trade publications will not stop publishing thought leadership content, the focus of that content is now simply shifting more towards how companies’s offers can help companies and possibly even governments face pressing concerns during the crisis, and looking ahead, in what I allow myself to call here now the post-Corona era.
Take the surveillance industry for example. The current COVID-19 crisis is giving momentum to a discussion on whether facial recognition software can not be considered a better option than biometric access control systems (since the latter require fingerprints and are thus less safe). This one debate will offer ample room for companies to project expertise through valuable contributions to the discussion.
A host of set pieces such as profile interviews will remain available in business and trade magazines alike. I would not consider it prudent to accept any such opportunities right now. The environment in which companies are having to function is currently highly volatile and there is at present simply not that much that can be said with any certainty on… wel about anything of strategic importance for the next few years. The dust will have to settle first, and at that time you will be able to put your leadership in the limelight for a story on how they will lead the company in providing value to its customers.
I received much appreciated input from Frank Strong on a draft for this article.
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