COVID-19 continues to challenge every aspect of our lives, personally and professionally. Many brands are in crisis, and many communicators are looking ahead at plans that just won’t work in the current environment and are not adjusted to what might come next.

This means PR professionals are presented with a choice: shift the paradigm based on these challenges, or be swept away. Anyone who wishes to continue operating and achieve success must adapt.

There is no switch to flip and no easy button, to get this done. It’s a multistep process. Fortunately, anyone with a will to do the work can get it done and come out on the other side better for the experience.

Consider the Current Message

Audiences quickly soured on boilerplate prose like “in an abundance of caution.” That may have been right for a time, but, for many people, that time has passed. The same might be true for a brand’s current narrative plans. PR pros and other communicators should review any and all content in the pipeline. This review should include both internal and external communications. Is it sensitive to the current situation, or will it create a negative response or make the brand seem out of touch with the audience and the situation around them?

Evergreen or Topical: Find the Right Balance

This may be the right time to temporarily keep some or all “evergreen” content on the shelf and speak directly to the audience from the perspective of where they are in this process. What is the audience’s prevailing mindset right now? What do they need to hear? Will they be numb to standard communication? Are there any words or phrases that will trigger a negative response or create a communication breakdown because of the circumstances?

Shift Venues Where Possible

At present many places are still closed, and there are many limitations on group gatherings. That doesn’t mean planned events have to be completely scrapped. Yes, some may have to be, but that decision should not be arbitrary or made without due consideration. Webinars, podcasts, videos, or live events may be options to replace in-person audience connection opportunities. These options may still offer opportunities to connect with fans and deliver important messages to journalists and other media influencers.

Keep Internal Communication Lines Healthy

There’s a lot of information out there, much of it dubious, some of it scary. Many employees and team members have been isolated, and all of us have been bombarded with this inconsistent, often emotional messaging. Team members need clear, calm, consistent lines of communication. This requires a strategic leadership communication plan for internal messaging that includes a good mix of personal affirmation, practical tips, and specific protocols for working in the current environment. Plans, programs, and expectations may need to shift, and these changes should be clearly communicated.

Evaluate Audience Mindset

For months now, much of the world has been inundated with COVID-19 coverage. For some people, this has created message fatigue. These people understand the importance, they just don’t want to hear about it anymore. That doesn’t mean they’re ready for “business as usual.” And, no matter where they are in processing all of this, it doesn’t mean business as usual is inherently bad.

It’s the job of the communications team to assess the audience and determine which narrative style and content is best in a given time frame. Good research and well-cultivated audience connection will serve well here.

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Ronn Torossian is the founder and CEO of 5W Public Relations, one of the largest independently-owned PR firms in the United States. With over 20 years of experience crafting and executing powerful narratives, Torossian is one of America's most prolific and well-respected Public Relations professionals. Since founding 5WPR in 2003, he has led the company's growth, overseeing more than 175 professionals in the company's headquarters in midtown Manhattan. With clients spanning corporate, technology, consumer and crisis, in addition to digital marketing and public affairs capabilities, 5WPR is regularly recognized as an industry leader and has been named "PR Agency of the Year" by the American Business Awards on multiple occasions. Throughout his career, Torossian has worked with some of the world's most visible companies, brands and organizations. His strategic, resourceful approach has been recognized with numerous awards including being named the Stevie American Business Awards 2020 Entrepreneur of the Year, the American Business Awards PR Executive of the Year, twice over, an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year semi-finalist, Metropolitan Magazine's Most Influential New Yorker, and a 2020 Top Crisis Communications Professional by Business Insider. Torossian is known as one of the country's foremost experts on crisis communications, and is called on to counsel blue chip companies, top business executives and entrepreneurs both in the United States and worldwide. Torossian has lectured on crisis PR at Harvard Business School, appears regularly on CNN & CNBC, was named to PR Week's "40 under Forty" list, is a contributing columnist for Forbes and the New York Observer, and his book, "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results With Game-Changing Public Relations" is an industry best-seller. A NYC native, Torossian lives in Manhattan with his children. He is a member of Young Presidents Organization (YPO), and active in numerous charities.