PR In The Times Of Corona

The new celebrities in these extraordinary times are the NHS staff and all of the key workers who are keeping us healthy, safe and fed. While the awfulness of coronavirus has rightly shone a starry light on all of them, from doctors, nurses and cleaners, to carers, shelf stackers and dustmen, expert scientists have also been having their justified moment in the spotlight. Except for two major Lockdown boffins who have had to fall on their swords for breaking their own strict rules in a classic ‘it’s okay for us but not them’ scenario.

Enter Professor Neil Ferguson, the government epidemiologist adviser who said, apparently, that 500,000 people in the UK would die of COVID-!9 and therefore very strict social distancing rules had to be enforced to keep the other 55 million of us safe. Unfortunately he continued his ‘secret trysts’ with a married lover, whom he’d met on social media site OK Cupid and who drove over to his place to give him some comfort. From hero to zero in one quickie.

The other equally laudable Catherine Calderwood, Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer decided the lockdown guidance was also for everyone else and she could spend weekends at her lovely second home in the countryside.

While this behaviour is inexcusable it is also outright stupid to believe you can get away with it. People talk. Apparently 200,000 people have already shopped their neighbours for breaking lockdown rules. While the paparazzi might be taking a break, social media isn’t.

Some corporates have shone during the outbreak. I haven’t drunk Coca Cola in years, but hearing that the company donated its entire yearly $150million marketing budget to combat COVID made me want to open a can and drink the stuff. Other companies have seen PR opportunities in sponsorship but certain things, like Google and others supporting the Lockdown Live Aid was, for me, a bit virtue signalling.

Still, for bad PR nothing compares to Mike Ashley and Sports Direct upping its online prices when it had to close its stores, and Tim Martin of Whetherspoons, who told his staff to get jobs elsewhere as he didn’t want to pay them when he had to close his pubs before the government’s furloughed payments came through.

Customer Service is always the basis of good PR and those companies which have supported their customers and delivered good service during this crisis will benefit afterwards. I had a spitting feathers issue with one company whose Customer Services had ignored five emails. I accept they are short staffed and busy, but so am I. I solved the problem by leaving a nice message on their Twitter handle and within 24 hours I had a (good) result. Jury pending on whether I’ll buy from them again though.