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, President and CEO of New York-based 5W Public Relations. He has overseen the company's rapid growth and expansion to the Inc. 500 list, as well as provided counsel to hundreds of companies, including members of the Fortune 500, Inc. 500 and Forbes 400. His work spans global interests, corporate entities, high-profile individuals, regional business entities, government agencies and academic institutions - both on routine public relations matters and extremely sensitive issues. One of the foremost public relations experts in the U.S., Torossian is known for his aggressive, results-focused orientation, as well as his close working relationships with members of the media, influencers, decision makers, politicians and celebrities. At 5W Public Relations, Torossian's client experience has included programs for Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Anheuser-Busch, Barnes & Noble, Cantor Fitzgerald, IHOP, McDonald's, Evian, EDS, VeriSign, XM Radio, Seagram's, The Loews Regency, Bad Boy Worldwide Entertainment, Marriott Hotels, Vail Resorts, Pamela Anderson, Snoop Dogg, the Government of Israel, and others. Referred to by The New York Post as a "publicity guru," by Fox News as a "high-powered PR CEO," by Tyra Banks as a "crisis management guru," and by CNN as "a leading PR expert," Torossian is regularly featured in and quoted by the media, including by CNN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, NBC, The New York Times, and others. CBS National News said "Ronn Torossian knows spin," and a New York Times feature story on Torossian referred to him as "The consummate hard-driving, scrappy NY publicist." Earlier in his career, Torossian was a Vice President/Group Director for one of The InterPublic Group's (IPG) largest PR agencies, where he was responsible for significant client growth and successful client programs, including work for Clinique, Fox News Channel, DHL, Hard Rock Café and others. A resident of Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Torossian was named to the Advertising Age "40 Under 40" list, PR Week's "40 Under 40" List, is a regular lecturer at universities and conferences, a member of Young Presidents Organization (YPO) and a board member of numerous non-profit organizations.