COVID-19

Putting Yourself Back in the Narrative: A Return to Proactive Storytelling

For many corporations in the past year, business plans were upended and communications strategies pivoted to address the pressing issues of COVID-19 and other challenges related to market conditions, outcries for racial justice, and a divisive presidential election. In many instances, the obstacles of 2020 have dictated communications strategies that centered around reactive responses, in many cases calling upon organizations to mitigate near-term business impacts and leaving little room to be proactive. In other cases, corporate success related to COVID-19 has opened up new opportunities but may have shifted attention from the long-term, proactive communications strategies that were in place.

If there’s one thing we know about the year to come, it’s that we should be prepared to expect the unexpected. But now that we are more accustomed to pivoting on a dime, perhaps there is an opportunity to do strategic planning around proactive efforts to build corporate reputation, enhance executive visibility, and lay groundwork with the media to share your plans for 2021 and beyond.

Dynamic, profile-raising media coverage doesn’t come out of thin air. While necessity has dictated the past year of communications strategy and set the tone for many businesses protecting their reputations, now is the time to shift gears and focus on telling your story, promoting your reputation, and doing your best to refocus on communicating around the long-range strategy that is poised to drive business growth.

Here are 4 key imperatives to keep in mind while laying the foundation for your 2021 communications plans.

Be realistic (and informed!) about today’s media landscape

Just as market conditions have put a strain on many corporations, media outlets have felt the pinch in 2020. With ad spend down and consumers cutting costs, the media industry has had its fair share of furloughs, pay cuts, and downsizing—in some cases with publications closing their doors for good. The consolidation of media outlets and shrinking mastheads mean it’s harder than ever to get the ear of a reporter. Further, many outlets are now relying more heavily on syndicated news and wire stories, meaning there may be fewer individuals responsible for original reporting. Be mindful of the state of the media landscape and tailor your proactive strategy accordingly. Looking at local and regional media specifically, many beat reporters are now playing the role of generalist, so communications pitches must be very on-point for the market.  Drill down into hyperlocal angles for the best chance to gain traction. When it comes to national or business media, don’t be afraid to branch out from your usual list of target publications and pursue digital-first outlets to tell your story.  We’re all sitting in front of our screens every moment of every day – broaden your horizon when it comes to telling your story.

Don’t wait for the postmortem—work-in-progress stories are good too

You don’t need for the dust to settle completely to begin laying the groundwork for your corporate narrative. Work-in-progress stories of how your organization has been shifting its operations to meet the demands associated with COVID-19 and the new reality of how we work and live are of great interest, even if your strategy is constantly evolving. Particularly as you set your sights on business plans for 2021, don’t wait for the curtain call to be proactive. While your plans are still being ironed out and final results may not be available just yet, now is still a great time to lay the groundwork with key media and take a forward-thinking approach.

Executive visibility is still key

In response to the global health crisis, many corporations have been focused on caring for employees and communicating changes internally to their own workforces. In turn, this focus has reinforced the importance of and conditioned public expectations for executive visibility. In the wake of the turbulence of 2020, it’s important for business leaders to maintain this level of visibility and capitalize on the heightened awareness around corporate leadership to get their company narrative out there. If your CEO has been going on television every quarter to talk about earnings or conducts regular town halls to connect with employees, it’s important to maintain these platforms and not make any abrupt shifts in procedure. We need buy-in from executive leaders to successfully navigate this transition from tactical, short-term PR responses to long-term investments in corporate reputation.

Stay true to company purpose & 2020 commitments

It’s important to be aware of the media’s role in holding corporations publicly accountable for their commitments, particularly in today’s environment. Your go-forward strategy needs to align with promises made over the past year. There is a growing collective interest in how corporations intend to live out their expressed support for employees with COVID-19 challenges and commitments to advance diversity and inclusion goals in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Now is the time to execute against these promises and demonstrate how your organization is “walking the walk.” As always, it’s vital to ensure that your proposed narrative aligns with the company’s mission, purpose, and values, as you press forward with proactive corporate reputation strategies going into 2021 and beyond.

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