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Staying Ahead of the Spread – PR and COVID-19

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch from Pexels

By Jeffrey Davis, APR

With the coronavirus (COVID-19) elevated to global pandemic status, the phase of precautionary wait-and-see measures has passed, including for your communications strategy.

Particularly for organizations on the front lines – from seniors housing to tourism to major conferences – how and when you connect about the outbreak is imperative to fostering reassurance and trust.

A public health crisis doesn’t have to send you into a messaging tailspin. Here are rapid response tips on how to prepare:

Employees First
Focus first on internal communications to emphasize safety and share the policies and actions your company is actively taking.

Think beyond a single all-staff email that may go unread and opt for over-communication. Coordinate with HR to use all the available avenues like signs in common areas, social media, infographics and videos.

At our Baltimore office the management team has sent a reassuring visual message with small actions like doubled soap products in the restrooms and wipes and sanitizing cleaner stations in the common areas.

Employees need to know if/how you are encouraging a change in routines such as using technology to decrease unnecessary human contact. Let people know if you endorse work-from-home to prevent contamination and if you have any updated sick leave policies.

Now is also an OK time to highlight how you are helping any coronavirus response efforts, financially or otherwise, and to encourage other companies to follow suit.

Consider the Source
Skip the politics and rhetoric by going straight to trusted institutions, staffed with expert immunologists and doctors, as sources for facts and recommendations.

At the top of the list are the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the World Health Organization.

Remember to keep the tone of your communications strong but temperate, promoting awareness and not panic.

Consult Your Crisis Communications Plan
This is the moment to put your crisis PR plan into motion.

Begin with the crisis communications basics: identification of team members; assignment of tasks; updates to template statements; and verification of current contact information including access to social media/passwords.

Next, look at the possible scenarios specific to your organization and plan accordingly. These could include leadership or employees diagnosed with COVID-19; travel policies and restrictions; impact on production or delivery of products; and questions about executive level decision-making which could be called into question.

Industry organizations are helping members with communications, so take advantage of their expertise.

For example, the U.S. Travel Association posted a holding statement, a set of talking points and a social media guide with sample posts and images specific to coronavirus. One of U.S. Travel’s messages: “The challenge in moments of public health concern is to react properly to the situation, but to not overreact.”

If you delayed or canceled an event you will need to announce the decision quickly. Even more important: if you elected to proceed with an event your messaging is extremely important as the reasoning behind the decision will receive extra attention and scrutiny.

Prepare but Preserve Your Narrative
One of your employees, a family member, or neighboring company could become infected or impacted. If word gets out and connects you in any way to the outbreak you must be prepared for questions – both internal and external – about policies you have in place and the steps you took. You need to have an answer.

Weave into your messaging how you prepared for and came out strong after SARS, Ebola, H1N1 and similar outbreaks in past years. This demonstrates your preparedness and confidence in weathering another outbreak.

At the same time, don’t allow COVID-19 to take over your narrative. Be proactive and ready to answer questions but remember you have broader organizational messages to deliver. Make sure this new topic is part of your ongoing spokesperson prep and is included in your media training exercises.

If you need assistance in messaging, crisis communications planning or getting the word out we are ready to help.

Jeffrey Davis is managing partner with Van Eperen, a Board Member of PRSA Maryland, and  Baltimore editor of Capitol Communicator.

A Maryland PR Pro’s ‘America in Miniature’ Slogan Offers a Better Idea for Election Diversity

by Jeffrey Davis, APR

Originally printed in Capitol Communicator 2/13/2020. Reprinted with permission. 

The Iowa caucus digital disaster prompted many of us to question the confusing and not-so-reliable system. Neighbors gathering in churches and libraries to convince each other to huddle under a sign for their candidate? Then it takes over a week to tabulate the results?

Not only is there a crisis communications lesson in how (not) to launch a simple but untested app, but it reminds us how a Maryland PR pro might have tipped us off to a better approach many decades ago.

Born in Western Maryland, the late Paul E. Welsh had an impressive public relations career in Baltimore, working as a reporter for The Sun from 1940 to 1955, and then PR for the new team in town, the Baltimore Orioles. He retired in 1978 after 21 years in public affairs at McCormick & Co.

Each year the Maryland Chapter of PRSA marks his legacy with the Paul E. Welsh Award, recognizing a PR pro who exemplifies his creative talent. In 2019, Van Eperen’s own Emily McDermott was honored with the prestigious award.

Welsh’s most enduring brainstorm came in 1939 when he created the slogan, “Maryland — America in Miniature.”

Picture yourself high above the mountains of Western Maryland near Welsh’s birthplace in Cumberland, Md., then heading past acres of farmland and rural communities. Then over the parks, row homes and office buildings of Baltimore, toward the Inner Harbor. Then it’s off to Annapolis, across the Chesapeake Bay and the rivers and marshland of the Eastern Shore and down to the beaches of the Atlantic Ocean.

That’s the Maryland version of “sea to shining sea,” and the people of Maryland are just as diverse as the terrain. Much more than the 90% white Iowa and 93% white New Hampshire. About a third of Maryland’s population is African American, 10% are Hispanic, and 7% are Asian, according to a census study by Wallet Hub showing that half of Maryland is white. Gaithersburg is the most diverse municipality in Maryland, followed by Hyattsville, Rockville, College Park and Greenbelt, which are among the top seven in the U.S. according to that study.

For that Iowa feel, candidates can meet with the farmers and visit the rural communities of the Eastern Shore and the northern counties. Montgomery and Prince George’s counties next to Washington, D.C. will test the views of the suburban voter, and of course there’s Baltimore and the complexities that come with an urban center.

Multiple media markets offer candidates a television presence for those campaign ads, including Salisbury and Hagerstown, and of course Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

And Maryland is compact, meaning more efficient travel and less exhaust and gasoline consumption for those campaign SUVs and buses. The food’s not bad either, so candidates can skip the staged diner interviews for something with more variety.

Let the Iowans gather in the gymnasiums and caucus all they want but imagine how the political landscape would change if Maryland voted first, allowing for a more accurate reveal of what a cross-section of Americans sees in the candidates.

Jeffrey Davis is managing partner with Van Eperen, a Board Member of PRSA Maryland, and  Baltimore editor of Capitol Communicator.

Announcing our 2019 Best in Maryland Award Winners

Sandy Hillman Communications Takes Best in Show.

 

On December 4, Maryland PR/communications pros, students and other guests gathered at the Mt. Washington Dye House in Baltimore for the 2019 Best in Maryland Awards program. During the program, the Maryland Chapter presented awards in 23 categories, six professional awards, and revealed the Best in Show which was presented to Sandy Hillman Communications for “The National WWI Museum and Memorial WWI Centennial.”

The evening began with a reception complete with an array of hors d’oeuvres and food stations where guests mingled and celebrated the year’s successes. The awards program featuring Deborah Weiner of WBAL-TV as emcee followed. After the awards presentation, guests were treated to a dessert table of incredible sweets. 

Congratulations to all the award winners and honorees!

Professional Awards

Click here to learn more about our honorees.

Lifetime Achievement – Barb Clapp, Barb Clapp Advertising & Marketing, LLC

Paul E Welsh -Emily McDermott, Van Eperen

Educator of the Year – David Marshall, Ph.D., APR, Morgan State University

Rising Star – Lorraine Walker, Able Communications

PR Team – Planit: Christina Perry, Ashlene Larson, Nikki Bracy, Jennifer Donahoe, Harry Hammel, Kendall Dougherty

Volunteer of the Year – Dianna Fornaro, APR Chair, Chesapeake Employers’ Insurance Company

Best in Maryland Awards Winners

Click here for summaries of winning entries.

Components

Annual Reports

Best in Maryland – 2018 Annual Impact Report, The Nature Conservancy Maryland/DC

Best Use of Influencer Communication

Best in Maryland – LiveAbode Influencer Campaign, Planit and Royal Building Products

Award of Excellence – Facebook Live Somos Baltimore Latino, Maryland Auto Insurance

Creative Tactics – Assoc/Nonprofit/Govt

Best in Maryland“Best Foot Forward” Employee Engagement Socks, LifeBridge Health

Creative Tactics – For Profit

Best in MarylandLyft Ride Smart Maryland, Abel Communications

Editorial/Op-Ed Columns/Story Placement

Best in MarylandByline Series: You Can Do What with a Library Card?, The Cyphers Agency

Award of Excellence – National Apartment Association Op-Ed Program with Robert Pinnegar, Abel Communications

Magazines/Newsletters – Digital

Best in MarylandJohns Hopkins’ Hopkins on Alert Newsletter, Johns Hopkins Medicine

Media Relations – Assoc/Nonprofit/Govt

Best in MarylandFlying Queens Make the Hall of Fame, Abel Communications & Harrison Communications

Award of Excellence – Poe Baltimore, Coster Communications, Ltd.

Award of ExcellenceASK4ME: Two Prongs to Promote the New Bay Plate, The Cyphers Agency

Media Relations – For Profit

Best in Maryland – Cirque du Soleil: Crystal – Baltimore, Weinberg Harris & Associates

Award of Excellence – BrightFarms Series D Funding Announcement, Abel Communications

Podcast

Best in Maryland – A Valuable Perspective: Roland Park Place, Weinberg Harris & Associates

PSAs

Best in Maryland – National Recovery Month, Crosby Marketing Communications

Publications

Best in Maryland – MPT 50th Anniversary History Book, Maryland Public Television

Award of Excellence – JHU Press 2019 Scholarly Journals Catalog, Johns Hopkins University Press

Research/Evaluation

Best in Maryland – Exploring the Spirit of Sagamore Brand, Van Eperen

Social Media – Assoc/Nonprofit/Govt

Best in Maryland – MDOT SHA Explains Winter Weather Safety, MDOT State Highway Administration

Award of Excellence – 13 Folds of the American Flag, Crosby Marketing Communications

Videos

Best in Maryland – Fighting the Celiac Monster, Crosby Marketing Communications

Award of ExcellenceDeal Island: Maryland’s Green Suit of Armor, The Nature Conservancy Maryland/DC 

Websites

Best in MarylandBaltimore City Health Department “U=U Maryland”, Devaney & Associates and Chase Brexton Health Care

Award of Excellence – Thank-A-Vet Web App, Crosby Marketing Communications

Campaigns

Community Relations

Best in Maryland – Toyota Promotes ‘Mobility for All’ with Girls Scouts of Northeast Texas, imre

Award of Excellence Maryland Health Connection Open Enrollment 6, Sandy Hillman Communications

Events and Observances < 7 days

Best in Maryland – Vintage Festival, A. Bright Idea

Award of Excellence – BrightFarms Share the Harvest, Abel Communications

Award of ExcellenceGrand Opening – Springwell Senior Living’s The Homestead, Clapp Communications

Events and Observances > 7 days

Best in MarylandThe National WWI Museum and Memorial WWI Centennial, Sandy Hillman Communications

Integrated Communications

Best in MarylandBGE’s Natural Gas Safety Campaign, BGE

Award of Excellence Victories for Veterans, Crosby Marketing Communications

Marketing

Best in Maryland – Great Escape New Business Campaign, Chesapeake Employers’ Insurance Company

Award of Excellence – Len the Plumber Magnet Postcard Campaign, Victory-360, LLC

Multicultural

Award of Excellence – Los Taxes Mailer, Maryland Auto Insurance

Public Service

Best in Maryland – Victories for Veterans PSA Campaign, Crosby Marketing Communications

Award of Excellence – HASA Hearing Hospitality, Abel Communications

Award of Excellence – Vectren “Don’t Be That Guy” Public Safety Campaign, Devaney & Associates

Reputation/Brand Management

Best in Maryland – Maryland Philanthropy Network Rebrand, Clapp Communications

Click here for summaries of winning entries.

A Special Thank you to …

Chesapeake Employer’s Insurance Company for sponsoring the valet service, Abel Communications for sponsoring our Educator of the Year award, and Van Eperen for sponsoring the reception.

To A. Bright Idea, Maryland Public Television, and Sandy Hillman Communications for sponsoring the dessert bar.

To tabletop sponsors Clapp 360 Communications, Coster Communications, Ltd., and Planit for your contributions.

To Devaney & Associates for creating the #BIM19 designs, Coyle Studios for documenting the event through pictures (check out this sneak peek on Facebook), Crown Trophies for the assisting with the awards, and Strategic Factory for serving our printing needs.

And to our event chair David Harrison, Harrison Communications, for bringing this all together.

Your generous support is greatly appreciated!

*This year’s awards were judged by PRSA San Antonio Chapter.

 

 

 

 

Have something to say? 4 Ways to Share your News & Ideas

Webnotes and the PRSA Maryland Blog bring members and readers innovative and inspiring ideas about public relations and PRSA. We welcome input, feedback and content. There are 4 ways you can get involved, including joining our PR Writers’ Resource Pool.

Send news and announcements about your organization. Include Webnotes on your distribution list for press releases and announcements. Email news@prsamd.org.

Share your experience. Keep us informed of which topics are most important to you as a PR Pro. Tell us how you or a professionals you know solved a problem, created an initiative, or applied a new idea. Email news@prsamd.org

Join the PR Writer’s Resource Pool. This isn’t a commitment to write; it’s an opt-in to a team email about upcoming stories or questions/requests from writers looking for story ideas, expert sources and comments. You’ll get a monthly email from the PRSA Communications Team. If you see something in the email that prompts a reply – respond. For example, we recently reached out for advice on preparing entries for PR awards. In the past, we looked for experts on working with influencers to answer questions for a blog post. It’s easy to opt-in. Just email your interest to news@prsamd.org.

Submit an article or blog post. We love submissions for bylined articles and posts. If you have an article or post you think other PR professionals would be interested in, send it along for our review. If you have an idea, it might be best to discuss it with us before you write. Email a brief summary to news@prsamd.org and will follow up with you personally.

 

imre: Employee Needs Leads Decision to Move Office

Submitted by Jill Wroblewski, Senior Program Director, Public Relations, imre

After more than 26 years in the Baltimore area, imre will move from its current office in Sparks, MD to Towson. Diving into the why move now and why Towson gives us a peak at how a PR agency lives its brand with a commitment to its staff – and how it uses research to yield decisions.

The catalyst for change came as imre needed more space to keep adding employees to its fast-growing marketing communications agency. CEO Dave Imre and President Mark Eber wanted to make sure the new locale would be convenient for 80 percent of its local workforce and would accommodate future growth. Taking staff’s needs in consideration, they utilized a heat map using employees’ ZIP codes that helped narrow the possibilities down to between Hunt Valley and Mount Washington. They then considered staff’s needs for easy access to dining and fitness among other conveniences. In the end, Towson won.

“We wanted a place with lots of light, collaborative working spaces where you could walk to great restaurants, go to the gym.  We will also be sure to utilize the kitchen space; which will be our focal point, since a lot of our employees work and gather in the kitchen,” said Eber.

Towson’s burgeoning core — with more retail and restaurants on the way — fit the bill. Imre, which has offices in New York and Los Angeles, had previously been located in Towson, but moved north to Sparks 12 years ago. The firm will be moving its 95 employees on November 1, 2019. The new offices, located at 210 West Pennsylvania Avenue, will be able to house 149 people.

The new office will include large conference spaces, a sprawling modern kitchen and an outdoor patio where employees can work in warmer weather. The goal is to create a technology-friendly space with multiple outlets to plug devices in and big TV screens.

Imre expanded in October 2018, with the acquisition of JMPR, a boutique firm in Los Angeles whose clients include Infiniti, Bugatti and Airstream.  Founded in 1993 and owned by David Imre and Mark Eber, the agency has a 26-year history of delivering meaningful results for some of the world’s leading brands through full-service creative, social, digital marketing and public relations services. Imre’s client roster includes brands such as, 3M, AstraZeneca, Dickies, John Deere, NFL, Pfizer, STIHL, T. Rowe Price and Under Armour.

 

Unfortunately, PR company websites are some of the more challenging sites to SEO. But all is not lost.

By Jessie Newburn

To my colleagues in the PR industry, and particularly those in the PRSA Maryland Chapter, I’d love to tell you that you should get your website SEO-ed. That you can have great expectations of not just more traffic but more leads. That you can transform your website from a digital brochure into an actual lead-generation tool.

That would be lovely, wouldn’t it?

But I would be remiss were I to promise such things.

This is not to say you shouldn’t tune into and implement good SEO practices. It’s simply that so many PR agencies are general practice agencies working with a variety and range of clients. Alas, the big search volume keyphrases you may wish to opt your site for–keyphrases such as public relations, media training, reputation management–are already “taken,” and it would require Herculean effort, intense focus and probably more dollars and technical skill than you either have or want to spend to rank for such terms.

But even if you did rank for such phrases, there isn’t much buying intent in those keyphrases and so you’d potentially get a lot of traffic but hardly any conversions, so your efforts to rank would be for naught.

Also, for those of you who five or so years ago got on the “Public Relations, Annapolis,” “Public Relations, Baltimore” bandwagon, you might have achieved some success with such an approach, though I’d guess any previous successes there have dwindled of late.

So, what do you do?

Throw in the towel? That’s one option.

Get smart about it? That’s a better option, I’d think. Here are some tips.

First, you’ve got to have an SEO strategy (preferably based on research) and a content creation schedule aligned with your strategy.

Second, go for the long-tail keyphrases. Long-tail keyphrases show greater indication of buying intent, and when you create content and optimize it for the long-tail, you may not get as much traffic volume, but you’re likely to get better conversions. Examples of long-tail keyphrases are —

How do I respond to a PR crisis

Media relations training for government officials

How do I get rid of negative information on the internet

3 tips for managing influencer relations

Third, do what you do so well! Get those backlinks to your site. Work with bloggers and influencers. Get some buzz about what you’re doing. Get people talking. And get them linking to your site.

And, overall, remember to write for people and optimize for search engines. This approach is key. People want to read relevant, useful information and Google wants to deliver relevant, useful information to people. This is where you come in and where PR professionals are poised to get great SEO results for their companies and clients.

There’s a lot more to SEO, of course, and much of it technical, though, as you can see, a lot of good SEO practices are within your reach.

Thanks! And wishing you the best!

About the author: Jessie Newburn manages BizDev and the Partner Program Manager at Atigro Digital Marketing. She can be reached at 202-794-7276, or at jessie@atigro.com.

*Atigro Digital Marketing was the top sponsor at the 2018 PRSA Maryland Conference. We hope you got a chance to talk with Jessie.

Photo by Martin Sattler on Unsplash

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