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TODD SMITH — How to keep the public informed during the Coronavirus crisis

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has forced the world into a new normal!

This crisis – like all major crises that grip society – greatly impacts business, industries, organizations and communities of all sizes.

While the circumstances surrounding a crisis vary greatly, there are general best practices PR professionals should be prepared to deploy, according to the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

Communicators should always advise a cautious, thoughtful and truthful strategy to address any crisis, and not employ strategies or tactics that spark hysteria. This is especially important during a public health concern.

Given the current global crisis as a result of the coronavirus, PR professionals are uniquely positioned to guide communications and offer resources to the public as they navigate a dearth of information.

The speed and level of misinformation and disinformation circulating in the public arena has reached “infodemic” levels. The result is too much information – sometimes inaccurate, and often in scientific terms or medical language that might be difficult to understand.

PRSA is taking strategic action to help leaders address the communications challenges in the coronavirus era.

Here are guidelines PR pros, marketers and ad execs can use to

initiate and support factual conversations in your community and with your internal and external audiences. It is intended to help provide recommendations for the public at large to more easily decipher information related to the coronavirus, and position communicators as resource facilitators.

  • Be transparent. Respect builds and reinforces credibility.


  • Be truthful. Honesty is fundamental to gaining and maintaining public trust.


  • Be timely. Establish a sound and regular communication path as the authentic and accurate source.


Understanding media literacy

Understanding and verifying sources, related to any issue, is critical — especially in times of crisis, according to PRSA. The digital age is filled with false information, misinformation and disinformation, so consider these points when seeking trustworthy sources:

  • Avoid single-source news and seek out multiple major media outlets with varying views.
  • Identify established, authentic expertise and think critically — is the source credible?
  • Verify and cross-check material through multiple sources.

Here are some reliable resources related to the coronavirus outbreak:

  • World Health Organization (WHO) 

Find up-to-the-minute global facts, figures and recommendations here. WHO also offers advice for the public and answers frequently asked questions.

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 

Research U.S.-specific facts, figures and recommendations for prevention and treatment from medical experts here. The CDC also provides many communication resources.

Other valuable resources include the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.


Ad Industry Braces for Big Downturn

Coronavirus is wreaking havoc on the ad industry.

The surging number of suspended events, postponed launches and disrupted travel is dizzying as a series of defining moments for many advertisers. Initially, advertisers thought the coronavirus would have a short, sharp shock to the economy but with the pandemic expanding exponentially across the world, they are bracing for lingering effects for months.

The economic tea leaves of a recession were there in the global stock markets when companies on the Dow Jones, S&P, Nasdaq and FTSE 100 stock exchanges were hit by steep daily falls in value as investors feared the coronavirus would stunt economic growth, according to Digiday. For most advertising execs, the coronavirus pandemic now means normal business is on hold indefinitely.

One ad exec told Digiday that three new business pitches worth approximately $2 billion in total media billings was recently postponed until the coronavirus stabilizes. Subsequently, agencies will win fewer media dollars during a time of unprecedented uncertainty.

While it’s too early to predict the ultimate economic impact of the outbreak, economists like the IAB Europe’s Daniel Knapp warn it could be comparable to the 2008 recession. But whereas that recession was driven by problems in the financial system, the coronavirus is causing a collapse in consumer demand across a variety of industries that slamming on the brakes of economic activity around the world.

The grim economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic are beginning to sink in across the advertising and media landscape.

“We are facing unprecedented market conditions and many advertisers have sensibly focused on protecting key business and commercial requirements,” David Indo, CEO of ID Comms, told Digiday. “A significant number of pitch plans are being paused and placed on hold until the situation clarifies. The result could be an avalanche of reviews through the second half of the year or perhaps a delay until the beginning of 2021.”

Some advertisers like Adidas and AB InBev are already pulling ad dollars in certain markets like China because the coronavirus has upended their ability to sell to people, while others like streaming services are wary of buying more ads in case it looks like they’re trying to profit from people being forced to stay at home, according to Digiday.

Canceled events and travel restrictions have meant people aren’t traveling as much. And if people aren’t traveling as much then business metrics like return on advertising spend are in freefall for travel companies.

The struggles of travel companies and event organizers are fast becoming the struggles for the rest of the ad industry too.

Some influencers, for instance, are seeing lucrative projects with advertisers get suspended or canceled as a result of either not being able to travel or canceled events.


Coronavirus Mic: Brands Band Together to Make a Difference

Necessity is the mother of invention as the old adage goes.

And invention and enterprise are alive and making a difference in the battle against the coronavirus!

World leaders have framed the crisis as a wartime struggle, and the early industrial shifts hark back to the start of World War II, when nations on a much larger scale repurposed factories to make weapons, armor and supplies.

Alcohol companies and spirit makers such as Anheuser-Busch and Jack Daniels are pivoting to produce hand sanitizer. It just so happens that byproducts of the production can easily be converted to hand sanitizer to protect the masses. Christian Dior and others are also retrofitting to produce the germ-busting gel.

Hanes, 3M and other major merchandisers are producing facemasks.

After discussions with the Trump administration this week, Ford Motors Co. and General Motors Co.  said they were examining whether they could put their idled factories to work making medical equipment – including respirators.

Hotels are becoming makeshift quarantine shelters across the land.

And while many industry sectors are streamlining in the midst of volatility in the market key industry sectors are ramping up to meet new marketplace demands.

Amazon is hiring 100,000 for its national delivery network and fulfillment centers. Walmart is hiring 150,000 workers. Dollar General is hiring 50,000. The drug store chains are jumping in, too. CVS and Walgreens are hiring 50,000 each. Papa John’s plans to hire 20,00 and Pizza Hut is recruiting 30,000 pizza spinners.

Ingenuity, creativity and innovation won’t be quarantined and is alive and well – and we will prevail against this world menace!

Each week, The Spin Cycle will bestow a Golden Mic Award to the person, group or company in the court of public opinion that best exemplifies the tenets of solid PR, marketing and advertising – and those who don’t. Stay tuned – and step-up to the mic! And remember … Amplify Your Brand!


» TODD SMITH is co-founder, president and chief executive officer of Deane | Smith, a full-service branding, PR, marketing and advertising firm with offices in Jackson. The firm – based in Nashville, Tenn. – is also affiliated with Mad Genius. Contact him at todd@deanesmithpartners.com, follow him @spinsurgeon and like the ageny on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/deanesmithpartners, and join us on LinkedIn  http://www.linkedin.com/company/deane-smith-&-partners.


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