Every day, we’ve seen more Fortune 500 companies announce telework plans for COVID-19 and many PR firms are following suit. Working at a distance is quite the challenge for public relations professionals who are in the business of generating visibility and enhancing relationships.

In such a people-driven field, what have we lost in this extended time away from our clients, colleagues and journalists? What do we need to do to make it work?

We polled nearly 30 senior-level in-house and agency PR experts for insights, and here are our top five takeaways:

  1. Be the first to know, first to advise. Remind clients and colleagues that you are essential by adding value that’s relevant now. PR people are most effective when we are among the very first to get information. It helps us tell full, accurate stories and mitigate risks. You may need to be more assertive. Even when in-person meetings are impossible, get in front of your clients quickly with ideas to help solve problems and meet goals. This is the best way for you to remain relevant to your clients’ business needs.
  2. Capitalize on internal comms’ explosion. Out of necessity, internal communications teams are killing it these days. Town halls are back, as are all-hands meetings. Intranets have more content than ever. CEOs are visible, reassuring employees and addressing plans for their companies. Pay close attention, external communications colleagues. What can you use for brand-building purposes? What content can you repurpose for external audiences?
  3. Make FaceTime your face time. Yes, we are lamenting Zoom fatigue, but right now, video is the best way to connect. Email has taken a backseat to the good old-fashioned telephone. Use online collaboration services (Zoom, FaceTime, WebEx, etc.) to regain what we’ve lost: the casual conversations, the ability to brainstorm, team-building for morale and creativity. For example, a corporate communications team lead can hold an e-brainstorm, complete with white board in the background. How about treating participants to a Postmates-delivered lunch? Perhaps consider initiating a virtual walk or 5k among account teams to benefit first responders.
  4. Avoid burnout. You’re not likely being evaluated (especially right now) based on the number of hours at your desk, so embrace your flexibility. We’re not suggesting you miss meetings and become unresponsive, but use your time efficiently. If mornings are your best writing hours, crank out a 9 a.m. op-ed and take an hour in the afternoon to clear your head. Get away from the endless supply of news. Take a “Zoom-ba” class. Go on a hike to recharge. Get mindful and get the creative juices flowing again.
  5. Take risks! For many reasons – including the proliferation of news competition – it’s become tougher to get a reporter’s attention, and probably your clients’ attention. We all have more on our plate (fellow parents-substitute teachers-breadwinners, can we get an Amen?). While always being aware of tone, now’s the time to be bold. Take risks to cut through the noise. Over time, the risk-takers and change-makers in this field will emerge victorious.

COVID-19’s social isolation is forcing us to communicate and relationship-build in new ways. One thing we’ve learned: This is not going away. We all need to make it work if we’re going to succeed in the long haul.

How are you making it work? Share in the comments!

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