Detroit Regional Chamber > Tanner Friedman: Communication and PR Best Practices During COVID-19

Tanner Friedman: Communication and PR Best Practices During COVID-19

April 14, 2020
Sign up to receive updates from the Detroit Regional Chamber’s COVID-19 Business Resource Center.


Navigating a constantly changing environment with COVID-19 means businesses must continuously alter their communications strategies. Tanner Friedman Founding Partner Matt Friedman spoke with the Detroit Regional Chamber about best practices for public relations and crisis communications during this critical time.

What is the number one public relations or crisis communications advice would you give to businesses during this time?

Meet your audience where they are, not necessarily where you want them to be. That means to show respect for them and what they’re facing. That also means you may have to get rid of marketing language and certainly, please, cut the clichés and the jargon. Focus on communicating clearly, concisely and consistently, answering questions before they’re asked. During a crisis, audiences need to know the facts, hear reassurance and understand any concern you, as a business, feel for them. Different times call for different communications.

What have you seen done well during this time with corporate communications?

It has been gratifying to see many of our clients, among others, switch gears and act nimbly, with the best interest of their audiences in mind. They understand they have to stay top-of-mind but go about it differently, in new ways in a much different context. A big part of that has been stepping forward in an effort to be a part of the solution for their community. That meant taking the really hard step of tearing up the communications plan and creating a new one on the fly. But it will pay off for each of them down the road.

Is there anything you’ve seen businesses doing that you do not think is working?

I haven’t personally seen this, but I have heard from journalists that some companies are actually having their PR people pitch purely promotional “stories” that are designed to attract sales. The advice here is pretty simple – until further notice, there is only one news story and it’s about the crisis that is affecting everyone. If you don’t have information that helps inform that one story, you don’t have news, at least for now. It’s up to communications professionals to get executives to understand that and understand other ways to communicate beyond press releases and news pitches.

What are some best practices you want businesses to know?

This is a time to be reminded of the fundamentals of communication that will get a business through any situation. This shouldn’t be a do it yourself project. Involve professionals wherever possible. Yes, that costs money. But just like you would never argue a lawsuit in front of a jury without an attorney, it would be foolish to try to communicate to your business’ most important audiences without the skill and experience required to do that best.

Another key best practice is that in tough times, communication should be handled from the inside out. Pay careful attention to your internal audiences, namely your employees. The way you communicate with them now will dictate how they will feel about you for the foreseeable future. It will also be the telltale sign for how your reputation, outside your company, will be shaped by this crisis.