Recession-Proof Your PR Career in the Face of COVID-19

Webinar presented March 19, 2020; blog post summary of key lessons below

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This pandemic and this economy are SERIOUS. But there are specific things that you can do to preserve your earning power and take advantage of opportunities that are emerging in this turmoil. As you take immediate action, any sense of anxiety and aimlessness will be replaced with purpose and direction.

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Take a breath, get some perspective

Here are two foundational perspectives that helped me reground and get back to work:

Things will be better someday.

Things are going to be tough for a long time; I'm not trying to sugarcoat that. But it's not going to be as bad as our worst-case scenario when our minds start spiraling. The future that you'll actually end up having is most likely going to be better than the one that you're imagining right now.

There are things within your control.

When you focus on what’s in your direct control, it removes the uncertainty and brings you a sense of purpose. Someday I hope somebody asks me, “Grandpa, what did you do during COVID-19?” I want to be able to say what I accomplished.

I’ve set some specific goals for this time period, and they depend on nobody else but me. I encourage you, as soon as you're done reading this, to set three specific goals for yourself that are directly within your control.

Don’t zone out, reach out

Now, as important as it is to focus on things within your control, it’s dangerous to focus on yourself all the time. Resist the urge to stay in your cocoon watching Netflix. Instead, look for ways you can serve others. Don't sit and wait; go create.

This is important both for your own morality, and for your economic success. The way you're going to grow, both personally and professionally, is to wake up every day and ask yourself:

“What can I do today to provide more value to more people than I did yesterday?”

Then go do it! When you choose to act this way, your circle of influence grows, and the value you send out finds its way back to you. But that's not even the most important outcome. What really matters is how you change inside. There's a serenity that comes from proving to yourself that external factors never dictate your life and your potential. Nothing a news anchor reports has more power over your life than the choices you make every day.

Give the media what they need

Demand has tanked in many industries. If you're in travel, hospitality, retail, there's virtually nothing you can do right now to goose demand in your industry. But the demand for content has never been greater. Publishers are dealing with an insatiable demand for more and better content.

We need to be sensitive when we reach out to the media and audiences about promoting our work. But it's more about who you're targeting than what you're sharing. If your journalist is up to their eyeballs in sick people, don’t pitch them something about fabric softener. But there are other journalists and bloggers with audiences that need distraction and news they can use. Be sensitive to timing, but recognize that people are interested in more than just the crisis news.

An editor at a big paper in the U.K. tweeted:

If you're pitching somebody in a really targeted outlet, acknowledge the crisis that their readers are experiencing, and give those audiences some useful information. It may be useful as a distraction or your product or service may help them deal with the crisis and its aftermath.

Focus on mind share, not salary

In times of economic turmoil, don't focus on growing your revenue or salary, and don't freak out too much if it drops a little. Instead, focus on growing your market share or mind share.

If you're an employee, you aren't going to be able to increase your salary. But you can influence the minds of people who make decisions about your salary, or people at other organizations who could make decisions about your salary.

Embrace upsides of a downturn

Economic uncertainty actually provides a lot of opportunity for those who keep working in the midst of it. I had a conversation with a real estate agent during the real estate bust of 2009. I said, “Man, this must be terrible!” And he said, “Yeah, it's really tough. But, there is a bright side: Up until now, everyone and their brother was selling real estate. And it was really difficult for me to get in front of clients and get their attention, because there was so much competition. But now all those pretenders are gone. And the people who aren't legit aren't going to make it. As I do my best to increase my share of mind, when we’re on the other side of this and people are able to get a loan, I'll be the agent that helps them.”

Back in 2001, Sony was the world leader in consumer electronics. They decided to reign back marketing during that recession, and ride it out. Guess what date the iPod launched? Oct. 23, 2001. Right after 9/11. Apple didn’t hold back, and that started their dominance.

Look ahead to get ahead

As a direct result of this crisis, there are going to be some significant changes to our culture and business practices. Those who are aware of what’s coming will be better positioned to offer value to those around them.

We’re going to see a big shift toward working from home. Telemedicine is here to stay. If you're in healthcare, and you can be on the forefront of this, you can increase market share, or mind share, or thought leadership.

We’re going to see cultural changes in education – less time in crowded classrooms and more work going home. There'll be a lot of opportunity in the new era of education in the coming days and weeks. There is growing demand for online educational content, for kids and adults. If you represent a cause, you've never had a more ripe audience. Put together some quick online learning resources, and it is much more likely that people will be interested right now. Even if you don't have any educational content yourself, you can be useful by curating what’s out there on your topic and pitching it for roundup ideas.

Another cultural change that will be permanent is the even wider use of live video in the place of live events, whether it's webcasting or Facebook Live. Even my yoga class is now taught via Facebook Live. So how can you adapt to be more useful in the face of increased use of video? You could produce more and better video for yourself or your organization. You could make money coaching or training people how to do better video. And even curating it for journalists or decision-makers. What are the video options that are out there for you?

Fill the void

ESPN had a long blog post that was a simulation of the NCAA basketball tournament. I was so starved for sports that I found myself scrolling through it, breathlessly hoping that my team would make it to the next round. It was just a simulation, but I followed it all the way through to the championship game.

If I was an agent right now, I would be working to put together a pay-per-stream, one-on-one battle between my athlete and somebody else in his or her cohort. This is the business model that boxing and MMA have been using for a long time. What if we could get Djokovic vs. Nadal on a court, no spectators, but charge 20 bucks a stream? People would watch that. What if we could see LeBron versus Kawhi one-on-one? Or Steph Curry versus Kyrie one-on-one? Or Rudy Gobert versus the coronavi… Oh, whoops, that's already happened.

Is there a void affecting your industry that you could fill? In your narrow niche, what can't people do right now? Brainstorm some creative or unprecedented ways that you could offer audiences similar opportunities to what they’re missing out on at this moment.

Put down the Twizzlers, turn off Netflix, and do this instead

Turn off the news

Here are some specific recommendations for you to start applying every day. Stop gorging on the news. If you're like me, you're a news junkie. But during times of crisis like this, limit your news consumption to twice a day. It's distracting and depressing right now. Don't sit and wait; go create. Don't retreat; reach out.

Become an expert

My second recommendation is resolve to become a thought leader in a niche that's new for you. This is how you're going to get ahead as revenues, budgets, and salaries start shrinking. Let's say right now you work in B2B software. You probably know something about building thought leadership platforms. And maybe you happen to have several clients that have particularly notable female executives. So you, right now, start positioning yourself as the expert in building thought leadership platforms for female executives in B2B software. Being an expert in any one of these things is really hard. But when you start to zero in on where they overlap, you can do that.

How do you do it? You start creating content about it. Did you notice I skipped the stage of learning? Because if you start creating content about it, it forces you to learn about it. Platform doesn't matter. Start with LinkedIn posts, or Tweets. Build out to blog posts and videos if you have that inclination. Do not worry about how many people see it. You're not doing this to attract a big audience right at first; you're doing it to shape your thinking, and you'll find your voice as you go.

Get your mining supplies

The next recommendation I have for you is to follow the ORE Pattern. You're mining for gold, and this is the ore. Yes, I made that up. It is the most effective way to provide value to decision-makers. First you OBSERVE. You share an observation about their work. Then you RECOMMEND an action that will propel that work forward, whether you're involved in it or not. And then you offer to EXECUTE it and explain why you're qualified.

For example: If you're working in a company internally, send an email to your VP of marketing that says, “Hey, I've seen the weekly updates the marketing team emails customers. It's definitely a great way to keep them close to us through this crisis. Video has proven to strengthen relationships beyond the written word, and it's preferred by 55% of the general public. Have you considered using a video component for the weekly updates?” So right there, it's useful to them whether they take you up on this next offer to execute or not.

But then you offer to execute. “I'd be happy to take that on. I can set up a simple studio. I'll rewrite it, choose a rotating group of spokespeople, and then I'll edit the video right into the weekly email. It'll only require about 20 minutes of the spokesperson's time; I'll take care of the rest.” It's imperative whenever we propose something new or different that we emphasize how this will not take more time or resources, because those are at such a premium right now.

And then your request: “Would you like me to proceed for this week's message and see how it goes?” So positioning it as an experiment rather than a permanent shift makes it easier to swallow.

Set a goal to do this daily. It gives you a purpose and a creative outlet. It's going to get you in front of the right people. Whether they accept your recommendations or not, it's a useful way to be seen by crucial individuals. And if they accept your offer, you'll have established greater value to them. You could win freelancer contract business, or position yourself for a new job. Observe, recommend, and then execute.

Next steps

I know it’s crazy out there. I know things are changing fast. It’s easy to feel disoriented and wandering. But there are specific actions you can take to position yourself advantageously for the future. Now is the time to take those actions. Reach out. Don't retreat. You got this.

My Smart PR Inner Circle is the only PR professional development resource that is focused solely on preserving your earning power through this crisis. Register for our Wait List to get free bonus training materials and get a feel for the program before we open our doors again.