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Most companies were forced to throw their 2020 plans out the window. As the first wave of lockdowns began last March, companies tended to utilize two distinct strategies—hibernate or accelerate.
When I say hibernate, I’m referring to companies taking a more defensive, protective approach. Many of these companies used the strategy of hoarding their cash and reducing expenses with plans to ride out this crazy time by retaining enough resources to quickly rebuild.
In contrast, companies that chose to accelerate took more risks and essentially “doubled down” during uncertain times. These companies worked harder and faster in an attempt to pivot or grow their business while their competitors were waiting to see how things turned out before charting a path forward.
Both strategies are sound, and both can backfire. It’s really a decision of risk or comfort as you can’t choose to do either halfway and succeed. As an expert in public relations, I tell leaders at hibernating companies that just because you’re playing defense doesn’t mean you should lower your profile. It simply means you need to alter your strategy.
Instead of highlighting new products or promoting new contracts, focus on building up your leadership as thought leaders and highlighting customer success stories through case studies and testimonials. These PR efforts are more long-term focused and will become extremely useful and helpful as the company leaves hibernation and moves towards rebuilding and regrowing.
Accelerating companies are a different PR opportunity altogether. The key is recognizing an opportunity and maximizing it. Here are three examples.
1. How the long view of PR can create a short-term takeaway
Take a look at a company like Pennsylvania-based Title Alliance, which has 60 joint-ventured title insurance agencies across the country. Initially, the company feared a massive reduction in home sales, so it began focusing on expanding into new markets and joint venture partnerships. Leadership also spent time doing longer-form industry media interviews and podcasts to further position the company as an industry thought leader. Within a few months, the industry completely rebounded sales-volume wise, and the company was well-positioned and poised to take advantage and quickly expand. This created an opportunity for the company to promote its success within the industry and in mainstream publications, growing its brand while several competitors were still riding it out and had yet to restart their PR efforts.
2. Recognize today’s story and pivot to participate
Silicon Valley-based SAMI-Aid, a national medical services network offering an online healthcare concierge platform, launched shortly before COVID struck. Their initial plan was to focus on business travelers needing access to physicians while they traveled, plus two Midwestern cities to grow their platform and expand. Shortly after launch and as COVID hit America, the company immediately pivoted to providing care during the pandemic and identifying governmental partners and uninsured consumers most likely to desire affordable, remote medical appointments. The company also quickly expanded its mental health services, recognizing an increase in demand as it was one of the few telehealth offerings providing such services. Focusing on psychological treatment and introducing telemedicine to a new audience, the company focused its PR on media in the Northwest as well as podcasts where they could talk about psychiatric, behavioral, and mental health care.
Related: 10 Ways to Get Global PR Exposure
3. Putting your employees first can create new business lines and PR opportunities
Another example of a company accelerating is an on-demand ambulance transportation company based in NYC called Ambulnz, which has more than 1,500 employees working in several states across the U.S. Early in the pandemic, as hospitals began postponing elective surgeries and other appointments, their call volume decreased. Rather than reduce hours or furlough staff, they began looking for alternative ways to utilize their medically trained workforce. As a result, they started two additional business lines, Rapid Reliable Testing (RRT) and TeleHealth+.
As COVID testing options grew, a need arose for a trained medical workforce to administer the tests. In addition to partnering with cities and government agencies to offer COVID testing, RRT offered testing to senior living facilities, schools, camps, businesses, Hollywood studios, and special events. In just the first six months, the company has administered more than 500,000 tests in multiple states.
The second opportunity came from a gap Ambulnz saw in Telemedicine (video remote Doctor visits), which has seen significant growth since the pandemic began. While many needs can be met remotely, there are still numerous requirements for hands-on bedside procedures such as physical exams, bloodwork, and administering treatments. Instead of the telemedicine doctor requiring the patient to visit an Urgent Care or doctor’s office for assistance, Ambulnz’s TeleHealth+ fills the gap as certified medical personnel provide non-critical medical services to the patient in their home under the direction and guidance of the telemedicine physician.
By looking for ways to keep their employees busy, Ambulnz succeeded in creating two new revenue streams. From a public relations perspective, this allowed the company to showcase its culture of putting its employees first while also opening the door to numerous product launch related media opportunities, which have grown their brand and contributed to the company expanding into new markets more quickly.
Everyone wants to know what’s next. While no one knows the answer, it is safe to assume at some point during 2021, vaccines will be administered to an ever-growing percentage of people, and we will begin transitioning to life post COVID. Companies currently in hibernation should be planning for that date by developing their PR plans to re-insert themselves into the public consciousness and regain and grow their market share. Companies already in acceleration mode need to maximize their time before these previous players return to full strength, filling existing gaps and changing the map to their advantage to maintain and retain their business strides.
Either way, January 2021 should sound like an annoying alarm clock. It doesn’t matter if you’re currently a hibernator or accelerator; it’s time to wake up and go to work.