COVID-19: Communicating Without a Playbook

These days are anything but business as usual. Every day, we are fielding questions from our clients and offering counsel in a noisy and rapidly evolving environment. While the impact of COVID-19 on each client is unique, there are a few lessons we’ve learned that are universally relevant:

Take a temperature check before you decide to communicate.

If you have something to say or a milestone to announce, you can. But be sure to think through the pros and cons of announcing in the current climate. Think about what your objective is, who your audience is, and whether they’ll find it timely and relevant. The answer may very well be yes. But with all eyes on COVID-19, it’s important to be sure you aren’t going to come off as tone-deaf.

If you have an announcement that’s timely, announce it thoughtfully, and to the right people.

Some milestones can’t wait – you may have pivotal data or material information that needs to be shared. The good news is that healthcare reporters are still filing non-COVID stories. We are seeing outlets like STAT News, Endpoints and Business Insider continue to cover a broader array of topics – particularly financings, deals and any news involving the FDA. In the daily newsletters we read from these outlets, we’ve noticed that about 30 percent of coverage is not related to the pandemic. Medical device and biotech trade outlets are also covering the topics they normally would.

That said, we are hearing that reporters’ inboxes are flooded with alerts and pitches, so it’s important for PR people to do their homework. If the reporter is currently only covering news related to COVID-19, hold off. It’s more important than ever to be sure you have something relevant to offer each person you pitch.

Social media is ground zero for COVID-19 commentary, but that doesn’t mean other topics are off limits.

While the majority of posts you’ll see on LinkedIn and Twitter are focused on COVID-19, there is still an opportunity to post about ongoing business priorities that aren’t related to the pandemic. We have seen clients’ posts about normal business activities receive strong engagement. For example, Sight Sciences announced a $30 million financing announcement last week, and they received good engagement on the company’s LinkedIn post announcing the news. Impulse Dynamics tweeted about a first case for its product and posted to LinkedIn about enrollment for their post-approval study; both posts were well received. There is still an appetite for non-COVID news. Some companies, including Genentech and Novartis, are also continuing to run paid social posts to boost reach and engagement.

Virtual communications are more powerful than ever.

People are home, and the average screen time is up. Medical meetings and in-person opportunities to promote your product are canceled for the foreseeable future. Never has there been a more critical time to use technology to reach people. The good news is that there are a lot of digital tools that can be tapped right now to bridge the physical divides that are currently our reality, and we are already used to communicating virtually. Now might be a smart time to invest in your company’s social media content and digital campaigns, or record a podcast. It is of course important to do this in a way that is mindful of the current climate. For example, Amgen did a nice job of posting about its participation in the virtual ACC meeting over the weekend, reaffirming its commitment to participate in scientific exchange and sharing new data. The company directed people to visit its virtual booth at ACC, and this was all done in a way that is sensitive to the way people are feeling about COVID-19.

Shift from driving sales to offering support.

Instead of doubling down on your marketing efforts to drive revenue, consider shifting your content strategy to education and support for the community you serve. Front-line healthcare workers are exhausted and in need of self-care, and those in non-critical specialties may be spending more time at home and likely open to sharpening their professional skills. There are many patients with chronic diseases and health conditions who urgently need ongoing care but worry about the healthcare system’s ability to support them. This may be a good time to offer helpful resources to your existing patients. Dexcom has done a nice job of framing posts in a way that shows sympathy for what people are going through, focusing on self-care, remote services and connection in the era of social distancing. And 11 Health is offering a 12-week support program to people with chronic digestive conditions for free. Great customer experiences are the building blocks of a strong, healthy brand. So, while these efforts might not generate revenue today, brand value is invaluable in the long run.

2020 is not business as usual, but we can adapt our plans!

We live in a different world than we did two months ago, and next week will look different than this week. At the start of 2020, we mapped out communications plans for our clients, and we are now needing to make changes as the year unfolds. This is a smart time to invest in strategic scenario planning that will serve you well in the year to come. Your staffing and financing announcements may still have a green light. Data slated for an upcoming medical meeting may now go out through a press release or webinar. Patient-facing campaigns may need to wait until elective procedures are back online. It’s critical to continuously monitor the COVID-19 landscape to assess your plans and weigh next steps.

This is a time to be nimble and open to new ways of reaching your audiences. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for communicating during this crisis, and we’re here to help you determine what makes sense for your individual situation.

Need more specific guidance or want to discuss your situation? Feel free to reach out at


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