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Responding To COVID-19 With Positive PR

Responding To COVID-19 With Positive PR
15 April 2020 | Updated 15 May 2020

We hear from Senior Consultant at Suzanne Howe Communications Bill Bruce on how businesses can foster a pragmatic, proactive and positive response to COVID-19 through PR.

With 40 years’ experience, Bill started his career as a graphic designer, before moving into marketing, PR and journalism. For the past 20 years, his main focus has been the food and beverage industry with a particular interest in packaging and environmental sustainability.

Bill Bryce from Suzanne Howe Communications

Picture: Bill Bruce, Senior Consultant at Suzanne Howe Communications

COVID-19 – A pragmatic, proactive and positive response through PR


Few of us will ever forget March 2020 as the month that almost everything we thought we knew about the world and business changed substantially, and possibly forever. The Coronavirus crisis grew so rapidly that the background news agenda changed from Brexit to COVID-19, almost overnight. All of the Suzanne Howe Communications (SHC) team quickly realised that we needed to respond to the challenge, so we could continue to support our clients and the media.

“We quickly agreed to hold our own ‘Cobra’ meeting - remotely, of course, to discuss and agree a strategy,” said SHC founder Suzanne Howe.

“With multiple clients in our three key sectors, cleaning & FM, packaging and food, it was clear that we needed to fully understand the impact the developing crisis was having on each of them.

Within days we had called and held meetings with each client and were able to gauge how each was coping, and the detailed changes they were experiencing. 

“At the same time, we began talking to the media to discover how the crisis had affected their planned content and to offer help as required – and increase the amount of relevant and positive content for readers with more time to browse. One publisher said they had seen a 30% increase in views since lockdown.”

SHC’s proactive, yet sympathetic approach was – and remains – appreciated by its clients. A handful decided to step back for a few months while they evaluated and reviewed their business models, but the majority were grateful for the support and saw the need to continue with positive PR.

As a result, SHC has been able to develop new and relevant content which has resulted in significant coverage. “We also continue to ‘meet’ our clients on a regular basis, evaluating how this fluid situation is developing and adjusting our messages and communications as required,” said Suzanne.

Almost everyone agreed that the biggest single challenge was not knowing how long the current crisis and its trading restrictions would last. In terms of the usual industry routines, all events have been cancelled or postponed and magazines are focusing more on their digital output and better reaching those who are now working from home.


Cleaning and FM


In the cleaning and facilities management sectors, the effects of COVID-19 are profound. Some premises may not reopen as companies continue to sanction working from home long after the crisis has ended. The more common use of virtual meetings and the costs of maintaining premises when business continues to perform with staff working remotely will lead to a review. 

Those premises will need a deep clean though. The rapid and efficient reinvention of ExCel as NHS Nightingale is an uplifting story which puts a positive focus on the FM sector.

Meanwhile, a heightened awareness around hygiene, cleanliness and well-being will be one of the lasting and positive legacies of this unprecedented time.


Facing change with a positive attitude


“In talking to our clients, we realise that the immediate concerns for businesses are: cashflow; falling customer numbers; workforce retention; supply chain disruption; and long-term viability.”

–Suzanne Howe

Founder, Suzanne Howe Communications


“SHC’s positive attitude and pro-active approach has received a great response from clients and the media alike, but we have had to recognise the realities of the current pressures and the long-term changes that might result,” said Suzanne.

“In talking to our clients, we realise that the immediate concerns for businesses are: cashflow; falling customer numbers; workforce retention; supply chain disruption; and long-term viability.”

Independently, SHC has also assessed that some things may change forever:


  • Cash, already under pressure from contactless, will perhaps vanish
  • The high street, which was already under pressure from high rentals and reduced footfall, with change beyond recognition
  • Home delivery will increase
  • Home delivery of food, already gaining ground, will become more of an embedded habit and will grow, supported by an increased use of apps
  • More people will work from home, reducing traffic on the roads and making offices less important – which will have a lasting effect on facilities management
  • Meetings will become mostly virtual
  • The British public will improve its hygiene standards and finally learn the importance of adequate handwashing (and drying)


SHC considers there will also be a considerable change in the media:


  • Printed media, already under pressure from falling subscription revenues and environmental sustainability aspects, will see more and more printed titles turn to a digital-only model
  • Traditional PR will increasingly be supported with more and better targeted social media
  • Advertising will change as digital and social media platforms take over 


From sustainability to endurance


“While the crisis persists, the focus on environmental sustainability will fade in favour of business endurance and durability, but in conversation with several of our customers we have been impressed that they have not wanted to drop their individual focus on sustainability issues,” said Suzanne.

“The other thing that has impressed us is people. Our own team at SHC has been amazing, each bringing their individual experience, skills and talents to deliver on our promises to our clients. And in talking to those clients, each stresses that in face of the unknown, their employees are behaving brilliantly.

“While this situation persists, our clients recognise the importance of remaining on their customers’ radar so that they are still top of mind when we reach the other side.”

Picture: A laptop computer

Article written by Bill Bruce | Published 15 April 2020


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