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Adapting a Communication Plan for COVID

It’s probably fair to say that 2020 has caused many marketers to rip up their communication plans and throw them out the window. No one could have foreseen the chaos COVID caused. 

Get Help Making Your Communication Plan Profitable This Fall

Many PR and marketing professionals scrambled in March to figure out how to communicate to their clients around the coronavirus pandemic. At OBI Creative, we’ve talked a lot about the need to keep communicating and have provided a number of templates to help communicators assemble and execute a crisis communication plan.

The communication team recently sat down for a virtual roundtable discussion, led by our own Senior Content Strategist Nicole Schmoll, on how communicators should approach the remainder of the year from a planning and execution standpoint. We discussed tactics and topics that will work for retailers and brands this fall. 

With nearly six months of “new normal” working conditions under our belts and an uncertain fall ahead, how should communicators be approaching the remainder of the year?

Ann Pedersen: “They are going to have to be willing to be nimble. Nothing is going to be written in stone for at least the next six to 12 months.”

Lindsay Scarpello: “I would agree with that. Also, from a cultural standpoint, it’s an election year, which adds another layer of consideration that communicators need to handle deftly. Consumer expectation and assumptions are changing so rapidly.”

Christian Stillman: “Daily life is still very much in flux. We haven’t arrived at our ‘new normal’ yet. We need to make a plan, as that remains critical to success, but we must expect to adjust it on the fly as well.”

Kasie Wilcox: “We need to make the tools we use and content we create more accessible to all team members involved in executing a communication or marketing plan so that it will be as easy as possible to make those necessary adjustments once the campaign is in play.”

Should we still make three- and five-year strategic communication plans?

Ann: “Absolutely. You can’t stop developing and executing on your strategic plan. Within that plan you have tactics, strategies and goals that you are setting. Then you have a communication plan to present that plan; a content strategy around your strategic plan. 

“It’s more important to develop a strategic plan right now. The communication team may have to be willing to make sudden turns and pivots because we may not have all the channels available to us in the future. We used to love to do things in person and we can’t do that as easily as we used to.”

Christian: “Everyone wants to know what they can rely on and what they can know. People are grasping for certainty. Even though we can’t deliver certainty, we can deliver a plan. We can say, ‘here’s our plan; it’s going to change, but we have one.’ Be straightforward and let people know you aren’t flying by the seat of your pants. It’s important for people to see that as communicators, you have a strategy in place that’s being followed and adapted.”

Lindsay: “Now is a good time to focus on long-term gains vs. short-term gains and assess whether the short-term gains are worthwhile. Maybe there are tactics you were executing for experimental purposes that you now need to axe in favor of tactics that make sense for your brand or business that might take longer to gain traction, like optimizing your site for search or changing messaging to be more authentic and to resonate better. 

“Those are big things that take longer, but they are always worth it, versus trying something new that might not matter in a few days. That kind of assessment can be difficult, but is worth doing.”

Those are great points. What if you have a communication plan and social media strategy that you created in December or January, and you have been tweaking it for the past few months. Should you adapt it, or scrap it and start over?

Lindsay: “I think it depends on the results you’ve been getting. If you’re seeing a decline, you need to investigate why. Examine what’s resonating and what’s not. Tactics will be easier or more difficult to change depending on where they’re being executed. Social might be a place where you can quickly try something new. Other tactics, like organic search, will take longer to gain results.”

Christian: “There’s always going to be change to a plan. The upheaval we’re experiencing has been dramatic. Yet we always need to evaluate what’s working and what’s not and plan as we go. Even without a pandemic, we would still be adjusting our plan to align our performance against our metrics. A communication plan should never be executed with a ‘set it and forget it’ mindset.”

Ann: “That’s so true. There are many businesses that have had to completely change their business plan in light of COVID-19. When the business plan changes, the communication plan must change. 

“No longer are we asking people to sit at our restaurant side by side with other diners. Some have switched from a dining room to a takeout restaurant. That would certainly impact the communication plan. Look at health and fitness clubs and how those have changed. You can’t set it and forget it. You should never do that. You should be looking at the metrics every month or two weeks to see that you are getting strong engagement and good results.” 

Whether you’re tweaking your strategy or starting over, what advice do you have for people? How do we figure out what we should be talking about, with whom, and on what channels?

Ann: “Identifying target personas is always one of the most important things you can do. Even as you reach out to new audiences, don’t forget your core audiences. Unless you’ve changed your business entirely, you still have the same core audience but probably want to expand. 

“Then you need to figure out where they are and what communication channels they use and meet with them there. You can always identify new audiences. Identify those people who are coming to you or to other stores that are similar to yours and you will see who your audiences are.”

Lindsay: “There are a lot of tools at your disposal. Especially if you are a small business, you might be wondering how to figure out who those people are. Facebook and Instagram have Insights features that provide behavioral and demographic data on your followers. It might not be exhaustive, but it can give you a good idea of who your audience is. 

“Use social channels to ask questions of your audience like, ‘Do you want changes in our content? If so, what do you want to see?’ Social media channels put you in direct contact with your target audiences. There’s no middleman. You can talk with them directly to figure out what they’re looking for and how you can better meet their needs.” 

What are the tools and templates that communicators should use to help plan out their communication strategies?

Lindsay: “What works for you and your personal workflow will vary, but there are many affordable and free tools, like Google Suite. They can be used for writing and planning content and executing your communication strategy. It runs the gamut. We like to use a mix here, depending on who is working on the deliverable. We use a lot of spreadsheets and third-party tools to help manage the plan. It really just depends.”

Ann: “On our website, we have many free communication templates we have developed that we would love for people to go and download and use, from social media calendars to how to build personas and identify target audiences. They are there for the taking. Download and use them.”

What are some free photography and videography tools communicators can use to create content right now?

Kasie: “When it comes to photography and videography, people don’t need the highest technology possible. You can use your phone to capture photos of your products. iPhones have Portrait mode to achieve a blurry effect in the background. Use a tripod to keep a steady shot of your space or videos of products. 

“People assume they need the best of the best gear when it comes to capturing things, but if you have a smartphone, it can capture things well. You just need good lighting. Even a giant window or taking photos outdoors is acceptable.

“When it comes to editing photos and uploading them, there are many apps, such as Adobe Lightroom, free for your phone. You can also get Photoshop for $10 a month.”

Lindsay: “There are so many great tools out there. Even on your smartphone itself, there are some editing tools available that might help. Look on the app store for good apps within your budget. 

“We’ve written a few guides on this as well that are available in our free content library. Especially in light of the pandemic, the notion that everything has to be highly produced is not relevant anymore. People want authentic content and that comes through in videography, photography and written content. People want to feel connected to you. Don’t get too caught up on the perfect post. Telling a story is far more important, especially these days as people are looking for that connection digitally that they used to have in person.”

Do you have more questions about how to adapt your communication strategy for 2020? Or, would you like help executing a content strategy for the holiday season? Connect with OBI Creative today