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Why public relations is essential in times of uncertainty

Presented by: By Megan Custodio, Senior Vice President and Partner, Dittoe Public Relations

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Uncertainties and challenges abound in business. What is the current state of our economic climate? How do we attract and retain employees in such an employee-driven talent market? How are world events impacting my organization? These questions and many more can stifle development and investment, but they can also create new opportunities. Many strategies and tools guide businesses through unprecedented times, but too many organizations overlook internal and external communications when tackling new challenges.

We’re a PR firm; communications is our thing. We communicate all the time – with the media, our clients, their social media audiences, their employees, you name it. It’s what we do best, what we lean into during times of uncertainty, and what our clients look to us for when they’re experiencing unpredictability, too. Sure, PR can lead to sales and new business opportunities, but at the heart of every strategic PR effort is communication. Forget what you thought you knew about public relations and see how communication can help stakeholders manage volatility and serve as a source of trust in the chaos.

Internal Communications

Your employees are the heart of your business. As such, they should always be the first group for whom you develop communications. What’s happening? Why? When? We aren’t saying that every employee needs to be briefed on sensitive data, but making sure the news comes directly from the source opens channels for dialogue that answer questions and boost company culture.

This isn’t just anecdotal. Dittoe Public Relations has been Employ Inc.’s PR partner since 2019 and works closely with the company to develop brand-sponsored surveys that are relied upon by talent acquisition professionals and recruiters across the nation. Year-over-year, findings from Employ’s reports confirm that company culture is crucial to retaining high-quality talent. According to its latest Job Seeker Nation Report, 55% of workers said they would leave a new job if the culture was not aligned with their expectations or values. In addition, poor internal communications can depict a company’s leadership team as unsatisfactory, which the Employ report cited as a top reason workers leave a job within the first 90 days of employment.

Examples of internal communications tactics and tools include everything from letters from the CEO to a company newsletter to videoconferences and messages on collaboration platforms like Slack or Teams. It may not be as obvious as securing media interviews, but PR teams can assist in developing these assets to ensure messaging is informative and consistent. PR teams can also play a role in outlining the communications development and roll-out, providing spokesperson training, developing a crisis communications plan and more.

Integrated PR Strategy

An external PR strategy is important but will fail if it’s not built in tandem with internal communication strategies. As we shared, employees are the heart of your business and need to be kept in the loop, particularly when information is changing rapidly. The more things change, the more in sync internal and external communications need to be.

Take Bottleworks, for example. Bottleworks District, owned and operated by Geronimo Hospitality Group, was on track to open in the fall of 2020, but a little complication called COVID-19 threw a wrench in those plans (not to mention changing the narrative for the entire hospitality industry). Rather than barreling ahead with our original press release distribution and media relations plans, we worked with C-level executives at Geronimo Hospitality Group to focus on thought leadership opportunities that shared best practices for the hospitality industry amidst the global health crisis.

The company carried on cautiously toward the completion of Bottleworks District in 2020, and we were in close communication with its internal team and the media for news and updates throughout the process. While opening a lodging, dining and entertainment hub in the middle of the pandemic posed a number of challenges, we implemented and publicized capacity limitations, social distancing guidelines and mask mandates – more clear, open communication – to create a grand opening that was ultimately a success.

The Great Equalizer: Social Media

It pays to build trust and credibility with your clients and customers, and the most direct way to do so is through social media. You can directly engage with your audience, give real-time updates, and address questions. This has been particularly important for businesses like Massage Heights Indianapolis, which was forced to shut down in March 2020. With no idea how long they would be closed, they turned to our team to keep them top of mind with the public. Overnight, Dittoe PR’s social media team sprang into action to tailor our social media strategy to “the new normal.” Then, as each retreat reopened per local mandates and guidelines, we crafted messaging surrounding the health and safety guidelines in place for team members and guests and shared that information directly with followers on social media.

Internal communications ensure your employees are informed and on board; integrated PR strategies ensure the media are informed; and social media goes straight to the customer to ensure they can find what they’re looking for, regardless of if they turn on the news. This work continues to be important today as more in-person events fill our calendars. But don’t get too far ahead of yourselves. Alignment can’t be rushed – don’t jump the gun to give updates to customers when internal audiences aren’t ready and up to speed.

Data is the Diplomat

Dittoe PR practices what we preach: We communicate internally – frequently and openly – and have each other’s backs. Our focus on communication has helped result in significant growth for our company. Since the beginning of 2020, we’ve increased our workforce by 43%. We led PR and/or social media efforts for more than 50 clients in 2021. That same year, we added 28 new clients to our roster. And we can proudly say we’ve maintained 95% or higher client retention each quarter over the past year. On top of that, our company, people and work have been recognized by nine awards programs in 2022 alone.

The future is uncertain. We all know that by now. Being open and honest with your employees, your customers and yourselves pays off.