National Capital Chapter

Pivot Strategies for After the Pandemic

Flexibility and Client Creative Marketing Will Help Agencies Adapt to the New Normal

By Mike Smith
Senior VP, Yes& Agency

The pandemic coronavirus spares no client or agency. It’s an equal opportunity momentum destroyer. I am tempted to quote Thomas Paine who waxes eloquent about trying times and later notes: “The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph! What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly.”

Corporate communicators, PR Agency account teams and non-profit association marketers who pivot and find new opportunity amidst the pandemic will survive and thrive. We all, as PRSA members, need to adapt to the new marketing landscape and be prepared for a robust recovery.

Yes& Agency of Alexandria, Va. used this pandemic as an opportunity to offer pro bono crisis communications consultation to non-profit clients, prospects and charities. We engaged on Linked In and other social media platforms to share the crisis comms offering and had thousands of likes and engagements by using our management team’s professional networks. Whether our followers and friends took the Agency up on crisis planning, the goodwill and kudos were well-received.

We have helped co-author or refresh crisis contingency plans for the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU-VA, a current client. In fact, every American should be watchful of civil liberties and free speech during lockdowns and quarantines! ACLU stakeholders including members, donors and target populations (like the imprisoned) need to hear from the Richmond-based chapter.

We also helped a client Galileo Learning, a summer STEAM camp program, go into overdrive to save its core business. We landed a Fox News Interview in San Francisco targeting parents and leadership of the 59 camps in that state for our CEO and he handled it with grace and aplomb. The primary message: parents will be more than ready to have new home-school activity for June. The CMO Nerissa Sardi emerged with the idea that science projects, go-kart building kits, musical debut and recitals can still take place. The 3,000 summer camp instructors would be re-deployed with an online camp counseling program.

One charity organization that provides summer Bible schools is in similar straits. The organization, with some 56,000 students and 2500 instructors (Bible School Teachers), is looking for new ways to communicate to families and home-schooled students.

One idea which emerged was to work with the ministers and churches to help carry the message forward that summer Bible school remains important to families—and technology permits the gospel to continue apace. As we learned from the Obama for America campaign when I was a press and advance volunteer, the principles of community organizing apply.

“It’s not the parishioner, it’s the preacher!” said the Obama for America (OFA) trainers on community outreach tactics. In PRSA parlance, it’s a one-to-many marketing strategy.

Yes& and my legacy PR firm, GreenSmith PR has a ten-year relationship with an online learning historical client. The organization is poised to announce scholarships and grants to assist community college students with continued matriculation during the healthcare crisis. The board of directors and leadership simply asked: “what can we do to help!” While details of the support for community college programs (including ensuring course credit) are still being finalized, the idea of pivoting to help the physical campus is valuable.

Here are some additional tips for way to cope in this crisis

  1. Write, Speak, Communicate—If you are in the PR business, you may have an inherent need to communicate? Writing a story for industry media, speaking on a webinar platform or podcast, communicating via social and Linked In is vital.
  2. Keep Press Relationships Warm – you will need them as we emerge from the pandemic. Today, if it doesn’t have a healthcare hook or you are not coming with a pandemic pitch, you may not be successful in this current media cycle.
  3. Be Careful of Opportunism – Authenticity and offering to help our communities must be transparent and not profit-motivated per se. American consumers are smart and will see through a ploy.

We are all in this together, separately! 

About the Author

Mike Smith is Senior Vice President of Public Relations for Yes& Agency in Alexandria VA. He has over 35 years of experience including runs at three of the larger PR firms: AE at Burson Marsteller, Chicago, VP of Technology at Edelman and EVP and GM of HAVAS PR both in Washington, DC. Mike ran his own boutique PR firm GreenSmith PR for 20 years and recently was acquired in Fall, 2019 by Yes& Holdings, LLC. Earlier, Mike was director of public affairs for the National Association of Manufacturers and executive director of its Manufacturing Institute foundation.