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Position yourself to lead after COVID

Leaders in West Michigan admirably tend to want their work to speak for itself.

The problem is that by the time their finished products become camera-ready and consumers eventually notice, the competition already has taken a considerable share of the market.

Such a laissez-faire approach to business development is akin to the childhood game of telephone. You reveal a message to the person sitting next to you, who repeats it to the next person until it comes full circle. By the time the message reaches back to you, your “Have a nice day” has become “Wave at rice cakes.”

It was tough enough to break through the noise two months ago; now, nonstop COVID coverage further interferes with transmission.

Business leaders who are consistently one step ahead of their competition eliminate filters between messengers and receivers. They allow successful public relations programs to do the talking. Proficient bosses regularly discuss their products from concept to production to distribution in news articles, op-eds, online conferences, speaking engagements and social media.

You can consistently demonstrate your capabilities and aptitude for managing change by serving as the voice and face of your organization in the news.

Here’s how.

First, even when you’re successful, there are folks who are even more successful. You could pull up a seat in Kevin Costner’s Field of Dreams and wait until somebody shows up, but your competitors are already out hitting home runs with lesser products.

They are after the same prospects, talent and investors as you. They know they need to be on the stage and in front of a microphone to represent their products and workforce, especially during tough times.

Also understand that the public wants to hear from you. A recent Gallup survey found that 56% of Americans want organizations to communicate with them about how they are helping to battle the coronavirus and how it has impacted them economically.

Second, traditional advertisements in print and broadcast no longer carry the weight they once did. Consumers crave honesty and transparency, which ads cannot deliver. PR enables a back-and-forth exchange with your audiences. They can ask questions and interact with you on a variety of platforms.

A strong social media presence helps, but it’s not enough alone. Americans are too skeptical to buy from a company they cannot research themselves. You’ll strike gold when your name becomes synonymous with your industry.

Besides, anyone can buy advertising. You must earn PR.

Finally, commit yourself to your public, employees and boardroom.

The rate of employees voluntarily leaving their jobs reached an all-time high prior to the COVID outbreak. It’s not that those folks don’t like their jobs. They don’t like their bosses or work environment or company culture. PR enables you to inspire prospective hires to work with you.

Great leaders project their vision, their ability to quickly pivot when times turn strange and the competency to achieve goals.

Now that certain industries have been allowed to resume at reduced capacity in recent days, it is critical to focus on communications with employees, consumers and the community.

What can employees expect when they come back? They will need to know whether to wear masks, to prepare for anti-social distancing or whether they need to sign legal documents to return.

How about your customers? They should be aware of new offerings, the ability to schedule virtual meetings, whether they can expect you to personally visit their premises to fix problems and any precautions you’re taking.

Finally, what does the community need to know about you? Did you pivot your production to personal protective equipment? How about new platforms with which to interact such as Zoom or GoToMeeting? Any innovations to announce after the government frees people from their homes?

Those locked indoors want to know what you’re doing now. Don’t sit silently while you commit good deeds and hard work only to wait for your market to return to you.

Because it won’t.

PR is not a replacement for great products or exceptional service. It can, however, amplify your successful record. So by all means, allow your work to speak for itself. But know that it only matters when people hear it.

Dave Yonkman is president of the West Michigan public relations firm DYS Media and former Capitol Hill communications director.

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