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COVID-19 Comms: How Brands Adapt Communications Practices?

COVID-19 Comms: How Brands Adapt Communications Practices?

The outbreak of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) has impacted the way brands communicate and engage with consumers. Over the past few months, marketing campaigns have been put on hold as brands go into crisis communications mode.

PR Newswire has been distributing COVID-19 related press releases since late January. Key themes from press releases have evolved over the past few months. During the early stages of the crisis, companies mainly communicated about corporate social responsibility efforts, fee waivers for relevant services and products, and remote working arrangements. As tighter movement restrictions kick in, topics such as the growth in e-commerce business and social support initiatives emerged and were reported by the media.

COVID-19 Comms: How Brands Adapt Communications Practices?


With shifting public interests and priorities, communications strategies must also evolve. We get the insights from some communications experts in Malaysia: Angela Ho, Owner of Circuit Communications; Peter De Kretser, Chief Executive Officer of Go Communications; Ann Chong, Managing Director of Lewis Global Communications and Farrell Tan, Founding Partner at Orchan Consulting Asia.

1. Make the switch to digital

Having a digital presence is a lifeline for many businesses, as seen during the extended Movement Control Order. Social media and e-commerce platforms have become the primary medium to reach the masses. As a result, digital-forward industries such as ICT and e-commerce have seen a boom in business, with an influx of people surfing the net at home.

Angela Ho: Most companies had to cancel events, which led to more press releases being issued during this period. For internal and external communications, online enterprise solutions such as Zoom, Teams and Webex are becoming popular alternatives to face-to-face meetings.

Ann Chong: The most obvious change is in channel strategy. The importance of digital channels is more prevalent now – mobile, online streaming, social media and online media must be prioritized in order to reach consumers more effectively.

Peter De Kretser: Some PR tactics and methodologies that used to work have become obsolete due to movement restrictions in many countries. In the short-term, internal and crisis PR will take on newfound importance with digital communications becoming the prime mode of information logistics. Businesses will focus on social media platforms and the use of online influencers will be an easier way of promoting products and services.

What brands are communicating


 2. Stay relevant 

Contrary to popular belief, story opportunities are not limited during this difficult period. Many brands have remained relevant in the eyes of the media. Brands are pivoting their updated strategies on the current situation and contributing to the communities around them. Some companies are also taking the opportunity to share knowledge and insights of maintaining operations in times of crisis.

Chong: It is still business as usual for some of our clients in the information technology, consumer technology and e-commerce industries. Hence, a lot of the communications that we have put out still covers the solutions and services that our clients have to offer. A lot of companies have also come forward to share best practices on how they’re adapting their businesses during this period, and offering solutions to safeguard from similar disruptions in future.

Tan: From a brand perspective, companies can recover faster by looking into management and operations, digital acceleration, social responsibility and product development technology innovation, all of which can impact stakeholders positively.

De Kretser: A common approach for brands is to leverage on topical stories and we are seeing more companies ride the COVID-19 wave through making donations and contributing industry-driven commentary.

What brands are communicating

(From left) Malaysia's Ministry of Health Secretary-General Datuk Seri Dr Chen Chaw Min receiving Atmosphere units from Mr Mike Duong Managing Director of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei. (Photo: AMWAY MALAYSIA)
(From left) Malaysia’s Ministry of Health Secretary-General Datuk Seri Dr Chen Chaw Min receiving Atmosphere units from Mr Mike Duong Managing Director of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei. (Photo: AMWAY MALAYSIA)



3. Position your brand to engage audiences

Crises are opportunities for PR teams to be creative and generate out-of-the-box communications strategies. However, engaging with the audience remains a core priority. Providing relevant and sensitive content is a vital way for brands to connect with their audiences.

 Tan: Focus on the shared community messages: How does your brand solve a problem? Be positive, but not celebratory. If your client’s business is still operating and relevant, be careful with your positioning. For example, the Malaysian government introduced a steep interest rate cut as part of its COVID-19 measures. It is inappropriate for mortgage brokers to say “Take advantage of the low interest rate now. On the other hand, saying “Let us help you navigate the unstable economy” offers security and respects the gravity of the situation. Essentially, businesses should make themselves accessible and visible in the right light.

De Kretser: Most people are saturated with negative news, so they want relief in the form of positive news. This provides an opportunity for brands and companies to share non-related COVID-19 stories. PR professionals can use this time to harvest their creativity and deep dive into well-defined story angles that the media would appreciate.

What brands are communicating

Viddsee launches StoriesTogether community initiative to give hope through films during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo: Viddsee)
Viddsee launches StoriesTogether community initiative to give hope through films during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo: Viddsee)



4. Keep a pulse on the current climate

Hard selling during a crisis can easily be misinterpreted as being insensitive. Communicators need to be mindful of the current situation with their choice of content. Values such as concern, empathy and respect need be highlighted through their strategies.

Chong: Brands should offer assistance – it does not need to be monetary or in-kind, just good general advice would be enough. Having empathy in such situations is important as many people are more anxious and prefer a listening ear to sales pitches now.

Tan: Brands need to reassess their influencer engagement programmes – anything that does not relate to the current public sentiment may be deemed poor taste. It is best to steer clear of using humour or wit for the time being. In a nutshell, it is important to keep a positive, inspirational, and helpful tone.

 De Kretser: Logic should prevail in times of crisis and uncertainty. Companies should assess the type of news they wish to disseminate to the public as it can greatly impact their brand and reputation. For those creating stories in relation to COVID-19, one should empathise with key stakeholders (front-liners, governments, etc.). There should be a level of respect for the severity of those who have been affected and not taking advantage of the situation.

What brands are communicating

Artworks of sneakers inspired by proudly stories of Vietnamese in Covid 19 (Photo: Biti's Hunter)
The artworks of sneakers are inspired by stories of Vietnamese people coping with the COVID-19 situation. (Photo: Biti’s Hunter)



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COVID-19 Comms: How Brands Adapt Communications Practices?


This blog post is written by Dhavina Sivanesan, Audience Development Executive at PR Newswire Asia in Malaysia. Dhavina joined the team several months ago holding a Bachelor’s Degree in Mass Communication from SEGi University, aiming to grow and achieve great heights as a media practitioner.