When PR goes grassroots

It’s a popular pastime to dismiss PR as nothing more than spin and bluster.

But if you ever wanted to prove the importance of effective communication, this was the week to do it.

The awful reality of the Covid-19 outbreak, and the chaos it will bring to our everyday lives, hit the UK with full force. As fast as pubs and restaurants emptied, supermarkets filled up with panic buyers clearing the shelves.

Every fresh piece of advice and guidance unleashed a barrage of public relations activity, whether from the beleaguered retail industry begging for calm, the health sector trying to keep individuals safe while protecting front-line staff, or company bosses reassuring customers and employees alike that it would be ‘business as usual’ to the best of their ability.

There have been strong and divided opinions on what constituted good and bad PR, particularly where official advice to the public was concerned.

However, where good communication really came into its own was at a community level.

Supermarket Iceland led the charge – and gained PR kudos – with its offer of special early shopping slots to help vulnerable shoppers pick up their essentials while avoiding both the virus and stampedes.

But at an even more local level a network of local businesses and neighbours also leapt into action to ensure that people who are elderly, ill, in voluntary isolation or simply alone, will be looked out for and, in worst case scenarios, looked after in the coming weeks and months.

It has surprised some to learn that social media can be used for the greater good.

Community Facebook pages are providing a one-stop shop of useful information, while also offering a platform for shops and restaurants offering free delivery (and hopefully staying afloat). WhatsApp support groups have been set up between neighbours who might previously have passed each other by in the street.

Meanwhile, cheery Twitter messages from national treasures such as Dame Judy Dench and US comedian Mel Brookes are going viral – while spreading messages of the ‘keep calm/stay safe/keep smiling’ variety.

When uncertainty and fear hang heavy in the air, the Coronavirus catastrophe has shown that sometimes the best PR masters of all are the public themselves.

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