Posted on Nov 05, 2020
Besides raining chaos on everyone and every industry, COVID-19 also afforded Public Image and Public Relations individuals and teams a unique opportunity. Such was the case for many brands, including Avon, which recognized that women and children were at greater risk for domestic violence than others after lockdowns were declared. Through its foundation, Avon partnered with three nonprofits and launched #IsolatedNotAlone, a campaign that reached more than a million Instagram users in India through influencers and opinion leaders. They also lobbied the government to be more pro-active on the subject.
The pandemic has created lots of opportunities for all types of brands, some of whom had no experience managing a crisis - including many Rotary clubs. As might be expected, COVID-19 was the centerpiece of what most organizations and their public image teams focused on from very early, with the mention of COVID-19 in messages and article subject lines and "feel-good” stories being shared profusely. Connecting COVID-19 to a club's brand and creating content relevant to the pandemic were other strategies used by many clubs along with another popular strategy - sharing organizational innovation to assist with COVID-19.
What was troubling was the finding that public faith in so many sectors like government, law enforcement, and certain industries had already started to be stretched, tested, and placed under suspicion that brands such as Rotary cannot afford to lose or minimize that trust. Reducing or retracting your club's public image, public relations and communications plans in these times can only serve to speed up any erosion of trust in the absence of such support.

Brands, such as Rotary, good public image and public relations and consistent communications need each other more than ever to emerge from the pandemic as strong and vibrant as possible. There have been enough media reports about both large and small businesses shutting down forever, and only close teamwork within and among clubs can result in a strategy that makes the world a better place and results in a win for everyone.
But what approach should clubs take?
"Remember yesterday, dream about tomorrow, but live today."
Remember Yesterday
You may have been planning to announce a new club project, activity or fundraiser, new marketing & advertising activities, new club programs, or go deep with something like thought leadership. 
Now might not be the best time for some of these things as you do not want your organization to appear tone-deaf to either its members, its partners, its stakeholders or its supporters. It is best to take the time to properly and comprehensively re-evaluate your club's short and medium term goals, including how best to promote your brand and communicate your internal and external messages. 
At the same time, think about how changes to your club "norms" and communication of those changes might matter to certain stakeholder groups. Consistent updates on ongoing club activities, committee work and board meetings for example, might instill confidence — internally and externally. Same goes for the completion of a project or the launch of a new one. And that absolutely holds true for thought leadership, particularly as it demonstrates stewardship of your organization and its governance.
In a club's re-evaluated strategy, while some other "original" overall activities and club public image or communications initiatives might need to go on the back burner for now, it is best to remember that you will inevitably need to get back to them and possibly modify them. A further step would include building contingency public image and public relations plans for those back-burnered announcements. 
Live Today
In crisis communications, we’re accustomed to moving quickly, considering risk and guiding decisions that have short- and long-term implications. 
Communications is critical! And it’s never been truer than during this pandemic. Clubs of all sizes are working in real-time and often on-the-fly when it comes to updating its members, its stakeholders or the public at large on what they are doing or how they are responding. However, clubs must also realized that there’s going to be a lot more to say, both in the short, medium and long terms, and now is the time to plan those communications and how you want to brand and image to be maintained. “Today,” in this case, is the time we’re in, while this pandemic and the unknown persists.
An absence of communications leaves your audiences, including your members, with questions, perhaps leading to incorrect assumptions and conclusions. A Rotary club must own its narrative, or someone/something else will. Some organizations thrive because they are communicating well, frequently, transparently and thoughtfully. That will set them up for future success.
As you review what needs to be communicated, be sure to consider all internal and external audiences.
As always, while messaging must be consistent, the exact content, sequencing and delivery channels will vary based on each audience.
Social media, traditional media, internal communications and even old-fashioned phone calls are all important to the strategic delivery of your messages “today.”
Right now, every club should be thoughtfully communicating:
  • If there has been a positive diagnosis, what steps are being taken to protect your members, your associates, your stakeholders, etc.
  • How your club is operating during this time
  • How your service is of value to your community
At the same time, “today,” you must be ready with a strategy and content to communicate:
  • Member or associate positive diagnosis and related actions
  • Changes to your membership
  • Changes to operational procedures/structure
  • Organizational continuity and recovery planning prepared with media statements, FAQs, website copy, talking points, letters for various stakeholder groups (internal, external).
When all of this is in place, you have time to “dream about tomorrow.”
Reflect on your original communications, public image and public relations plans. When this is behind us (and it will be), what will you need to move quickly on?
Remember though...certain elements will always remain. Market share, competition for stakeholder and public attention and support, member engagement…all the strategic objectives behind your public image and public relations program will be as important as they ever were.
Start building (“dreaming”) of your “tomorrow” plan. Strategies and tactics will both be important. When, what, how and where you communicate when the crisis is past may look different from your original plans. But you still must plan, because you need to be prepared to move quickly when the crisis ebbs and, ultimately, ends.
All three stages are equally important, and by balancing them appropriately, your club's communications, public image and public relations program will find success under the equilibrium.

4 Tips for Marketing Communications During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has taught all of us many new things… how to become skilled in every virtual meeting technology; how to update our Google My Business listings; mastering parenting, teaching, and working simultaneously; and that “Cheryl” really is the worst coworker in the “office.” But while humor is certainly good medicine for our mental health during these times, we are also facing very real demands as well. As communications, public image and public relations is key to any Rotary club's success, how do clubs address the needs of our organization and our stakeholders during (and even after) the time of COVID-19?
1. Be Clear
There is an overwhelming amount of COVID-19 and coronavirus messaging out there right now. Make sure your communication clearly and briefly articulates your message. Many of us want to include personal and supportive notes in our communications right now – that is fine and it can add a welcome human element to your message, but be sure to put the reason for your communication up front so the reader sees it first and foremost. Then move into secondary messages.
2. Be Transparent
Many of us are in undesirable positions right now, particularly from business operations and financial standpoints. Similarly, if your club needs to communicate these types of messages, do so in as transparent a fashion as possible. For example, if your club is considering budget cuts, project scale-backs, or overall reductions in activities, it may be right to share this. Also, if you are looking into alternative means to fundraise and stimulate club support, that may be ok to share, too. These insights (even if they aren’t exact) let your audience know you’re addressing the situation and being open about the options you’re considering. It also builds trust.
3. Be Authentic
“Quarantine hair, don’t care” isn’t just an internet meme. It’s a nugget of gold for all brands and businesses. People crave authenticity. It builds relationships and trust between you, your club and its audience. COVID-19 is hard for all of us. Give yourself and others a little grace. Know we are all in this together. This could also be an opportunity to have a little fun showing some of your club's behind the scenes in “COVID-19 life” or showing your members working from home with their new “coworkers” (aka pets, spouses and kids).
4. Try Different Outreach Tactics
Media consumption habits have changed since COVID-19. Knowing your audience and pivoting to where they are right now can be the key to better results. For example, we are seeing that TV (broadcast and streaming) and social media are being consumed at much higher rates right now than traditional indoor or outdoor signage. And a recent Nielsen article also shows that radio is even as or more popular than before COVID-19. And in addition to increased consumption, understand that “virtual,” non-HD broadcast options are increasingly viable. We’re all adapting to a media landscape in which traditional broadcast standards are relaxed to reflect the times. For owned media assets (website, organic social media, newsletters), be sure to include your message prominently. If you have your own COVID-19 response page, link to it right from your homepage and/or consider having a pop-up message appear when users arrive to your site. Pin COVID-19 related posts to the top of your social media channels for “sticking” power.
Yes, the COVID-19 struggle is real. But know that you are not alone. So many Rotary clubs, businesses and communicators are facing similar situations. It’s even possible that the news you feel will be a “big deal” when it’s reported, won’t be. There’s a lot of bad news out there right now. And a lot of good news. The best you can do for your club's communications and public image is be real.

How can your club promote your activities and service projects if almost all of it is virtual today?

Your club’s website and social media channels are now more important than ever.

Many clubs are meeting virtually, using tools like Zoom, WebEx, and GoToMeeting. Capture a screen image of your members and post it on your digital channels to show that your club remains active. Post club bulletins and newsletters to update your members and community on your club’s activities, even if you aren’t meeting in person. Consistent communication with both members and the public is essential for keeping your club visible in your community.

Perhaps most important, keep promoting your service projects! Many clubs are providing behind-the-scenes support, such as making masks for front-line responders, writing cards and letters for nursing homes, funding gift cards for local grocery stores and restaurants, donating “thinking of you” presents and treats for house-bound local residents, and providing school supplies and materials for students who have to attend school remotely. Some clubs have even become a centralized community resource, documenting where residents can go if they have questions or issues related to social services during this challenging time.

Here are some other things clubs have been doing:
  • Have members who are at lower risk provide in-person support. They can package donations for food pantries, shop for elders, and run errands for those who cannot leave their homes.
  • Sponsor or support international projects, including virtual meetings for best practices on staying safe during the pandemic. Train people globally on resources for remote learning.
  • Make sure your club website is up-to-date, using the Rotary branding guides described in the Voice and Visual Identity Guidelines (available in the Brand Center by signing in to My Rotary).
  • Select one primary social media platform—such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn—and update it regularly, at least once a week.
  • Let the public know through virtual technology all of the good work that your club is doing. Pictures are worth a thousand words, especially on digital channels. Try to get photos of your members actively performing service, either in their homes without masks or out in the community with masks. You can even live stream your service activities using tools like Facebook Live, YouTube Live, or Periscope. Record your live-streamed events and post them on your club’s social media channels and website. Videos can go viral, increasing our public image impact.
  • Consider how you can help members of community use technology to connect with loved ones or seek needed support services. Promote these opportunities on your club’s website and social media and share them with your community’s digital channels. Most local towns and cities have a Facebook page or Twitter account. Join and post, and share posts from others in your club to promote the club’s activities.

Need a starting point? The Rotary Brand Center has a quick start guide for Rotary websites and guidelines for social media channels. Set up and regularly maintain a social media channel or two for you club and share postings from your club, from District 7030 and from Rotary International. Additionally, you can share your ideas and learn more on the Rotarians Respond to COVID-19 Facebook group