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Why is Positive PR So Important in a Time of Crisis?

It has been pretty impossible to avoid reality and the very challenging situation we’re living through. Afterall, the media have been reminding us every minute of the day.

Stories filled with statistics designed to shock and scare aren’t anything new though (sadly). In recent years, we’ve seen media demand for negative news overtake even the spiciest of tales. Sure, sex sells, but not as effectively as doom and gloom, and we can’t blame the media – they’ve been giving the people what they want. This has led to a muddling between genuine news and stories led by rumour, fuelling the beast that is fake news.

Fortunately, it isn’t just me who is getting serious negative news fatigue and is looking for a clearer separation between the news we need, and the content we now want. Some good news for the industry: Censuswide recently found that Brits are relying on journalism more than before with nearly half (48 percent) reading publications more than they usually do. We’re going to be taking a look at how the current demand for useful and positive news has shifted in recent weeks and what this could mean for the long-term media landscape.

How have search trends changed?

In the last week alone, there has been a change in the media landscape and a more defined split between what is actual news – the ‘need to know’ stuff, and the other content we want most that provides reassurance and mental respite. The days of endless streams of negative, shaming stories are – hopefully – on their way out.

At this time, demand is high for answers to common questions relating to the COVID-19 outbreak. Google shared a list of the most searched for topics in EMEA (from the last seven days) but these aren’t, for the most part, inherently negative. These queries are centred around seeking clarification, guidance and advice.

The media are responding to this demand with more and more useful, advice-led articles across a range of sectors. From more serious information relating to COVID-19 symptoms and self-care, to recommendations on foods you can freeze, DIY you can tackle and how to set up your home office. Right now, what the people need AND want are simple answers – no opinions or negative sentiment necessary.

If you’re a brand that has an in-house expert or spokesperson who can find relevant links between your business and the below topics, now is your time to shine. By simply providing useful and trustworthy comments and guidance on these you are bound to get an all-important mention:

  • Anything specifically related to COVID-19 symptoms, government advice etc.
  • Productivity and working from home
  • Home office essentials
  • Better broadband
  • Conference calls and virtual meetings
  • Distance learning, including languages and musical instruments
  • Home workouts
  • Nutrition and healthy eating, particularly to increase immunity
  • Food storage and preparation
  • Home delivery services
  • DIY
  • Gardening, particularly growing vegetables
  • Ways to entertain the kids
  • Home-schooling

There is also demand for a little light relief. When asked what type of content Brits want from the news, 37 percent wanted heart-warming stories about human kindness. Stories that reassure and remind us that while things are undeniably different and particularly tough, we can still have a bit of fun. Over the last week, in the Digital PR team, we have seen numerous requests from journalists looking for light-hearted content. While some claim they ‘can’t fill a paper with coronavirus news only’, there is also recognition that, as a nation, we don’t want them to.

So, what constitutes good news during a crisis?

There are currently two iterations of this…

  1. Positive stories specifically relating to the pandemic and lockdown
    – Things people are doing to support each other (family, neighbours, colleagues, communities etc.)
    – Things people are doing to keep themselves sane (Christmas in March, working with your pets)
    – Things businesses are doing to support their customers (specifically the elderly or those at risk) and their employees
    – Things businesses and people are doing to support those on the front line (NHS, care workers, supermarket staff, police officers etc.)
  2. Fun, playful stories that are entirely unrelated to the current situation and serve as a welcome distraction
    – Brainteasers, quizzes and playful polls
    – Competition
    – Light-hearted lifestyle surveys
    – Celebrity stories (not celeb-bashing, keep it light)
    – Pretty much anything with pets!

Increasing volumes of advice-led content and light-hearted news is, in my mind, a positive step towards a media landscape less centred around negativity and shaming. And possibly long-term, more mindful of highlighting the good things happening across the world. Maybe it’s too early to say for sure, and you might call me an optimist, but I’m hopeful that this shift in attitude is a step in the right direction.

But what does this mean for your PR?

You may be panicking, thinking about pausing your PR and digital marketing functions for the time being. This may be due to associated costs, because demand for products or services is lower at this time, or because it is harder to put out a story in a sensitive way. While these are all entirely reasonable concerns, stepping back from PR and digital marketing output entirely is inadvisable for most.

You could argue that as a PR ‘person’ I’m bound to say that. But when the dust settles and we come out on the other side of this mad time, any aspiration of getting ‘back to normal’ is going to be hard to achieve if your PR and marketing activity has dropped off a cliff in recent weeks. And it will be your brand awareness and search visibility that suffers as a consequence of this.

When you’ve got so far, invested so wisely and fought so hard for your rankings, maintenance – if not further growth – should still be a priority. Especially if your competitors are keeping these channels active.

Our advice? As always, you should respond to the current landscape – adapt your stories, your content and your messaging to endure. Split out contributions to genuine and much-needed news with the softer side of editorial content. Focus should be on providing useful guidance where feasible, generating reassuring content with positive messaging and weaving in some light-hearted relief where appropriate. Being authentic with your PR has actually never been easier, and long may it last. Myself and my team of PR experts are fully operational and ready to help where needed. If you’re struggling to gain coverage or would like to learn how you could use positive PR in a time of crisis, please get in touch.