Impactful Storytelling During COVID-19: How to Master the Pivot

Does branded storytelling still have a place during COVID-19? We tapped SVP, PR at IMRE, Stephanie Friess, for her counsel on this important topic:

Stephanie Friess, SVP PR at IMRE

For those in the business of telling brand stories to journalists (us PR folks), the formula used to be fairly standard. Understand the brand story, create an experience and pitch editors and influencers. Much of this was planned weeks or even months in advance. And then COVID-19 hit. And the playbook for earning coverage went out the window.Planned to launch a product at an event? See you in 2021. Desk sides with your expert? Try again. Press trip with editors? Don’t even pack your bags.

So now that the traditional PR world we all knew is no more (at least for now), the art of the pivot and how we connect with journalists, influencers and consumers is becoming more critical than ever. Because here’s the thing, #stayhome doesn’t mean brands have to #staysilent. People, more than ever, are looking for escapism, whether that’s a new face mask to try or cool content they can watch. Brand storytelling can still continue on, but mastering the art of the pivot will be critical. Brands who excel here will build brand loyalty, engage new users and connect with audiences in new ways. Those who stumble risk long term reputation damage.

So can brands successfully navigate the pivot and continue to tell their stories? Yes they can, but it will be important to keep some new rules of engagement in mind:

HUMANS FIRST APPROACH Relationships are king right now, so time to put the cold pitch email away. Brands that push their messages to journalists they don’t have relationships with will look tone deaf and frankly, rude. Be human, check in with editors who are part of a brand’s inner circle and talk to them about what they need right now. Whether that’s a moment to collect themselves or products for an upcoming story, brands who take a more human, empathetic approach will strengthen relationships and maybe even secure some coverage in the process.

LEVERAGE TRENDS, NOT OPINIONS One story doesn’t make it a news trend. We are all consuming news at a rapid rate, but understand a trending earned conversation vs. someone’s opinion is critical. Brands want to pivot to new activations based on trends, not the thoughts of one human mainly because they won’t resonate with the larger “we” and could end up backing a brand into a corner that they may not want to be in. Take the time to understand what matters to your audience (now and always) to ensure your message hits the right cord.

BE TRANSPARENT Times they are a changin’. From upcoming layoffs to safety precautions for employees, what’s happening within the walls of the brand impacts how editors and consumers will view the brand on the outside. Transparency separates the wins from the fails so brands must ensure they are being consistent in all messaging, both internally and externally. The 4th wall between brands and media is no more - so be mindful of the entire brand ecosystem before sharing news.

BE IMPACTFUL, NOT REACTIVE The world is an intense, fast moving place right now. Brands (and their PR teams) need to work smartly, not chaotically. Being the first to announce something right now without the proper due diligence might backfire in the long run. The goal of the pivot is to be fast, but it’s most important to be smart and impactful.

EMBRACE EXPERIMENTATION Thinking about TikTok? Now is the time to test and learn across multiple platforms and content types if you have the resources to do so. As our ECD once said, this moment has collectively given us permission to be more experimental, so don’t miss the opportunity. Try new things out and get back to your roots of organic engagement. Whether it’s Gen Z or any cynical consumer, there’s a sniff test to authenticity, so now’s the time to rediscover your authentic voice.

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