Beauty PRs reveal how they're dealing with COVID-19

It’s no secret that we’ve all had to adjust to a new world order prompted by COVID-19, but what many aren’t discussing is the impact this pandemic has had on publicists.

Losing accounts, cancelling events, helping clients navigate this new normal, adapting to the needs of the media and seeing their brands suffer – all while diving head first into this virtual age – are just some of the many challenges PRs are currently facing. And it’s certainly no easy feat, especially on top of the usual everyday obstacles.

To gain more insight into how they are adapting, and to obtain invaluable advice for other brands and agencies, BD recently spoke with a number of reputable beauty PRs. 

How agencies are dealing
One agency with the safety of staff and clients at the forefront is Little Bird PR. Founder, Lucy Brooks, said her business has been working remotely for well over a month now.
“A lot of our day-to-day contact with clients and media is via phone and email,” she told BD. “But given the current circumstances, we are utilising platforms like Zoom so we can maintain a face-to-face personal approach.”

Coote Connex director, Maz Coote, said she also moved swiftly to restructure how her team was working – with the agency’s team of publicists now stationed at home as well. The showroom, however, which is a fundamental part of the business’ service is kept open to dispatch products – with only a ‘very much’ skeleton staff present. This is because many of Coote Connex’s brands have online distribution channels and retail partners that have remained open.

“A lot of what we do as publicists is on the go. We can work remotely from a shoot and from an event – so juggling is, you could say in our DNA,” Coote said. “Our responsibility is to support our clients, continue to secure interesting and relevant coverage – and keep pushing the needle forward. Help steady the ship, and make plans in partnership to move forward.”

Meanwhile, Dateline Imports – which has been a family-run business for over 40 years – is dealing with the pandemic as any family would, according to media manager, Catherine Evans. It is encouraging all staff to be mindful and to concentrate on taking things one day at a time. Staff have also been advised to deal with the facts, rather than the "what ifs."

One Daydream PR is another agency facing the situation head on: by focusing on the bright side amid dark, unknown territory.
“We’re talking with clients regularly, locking in regular WIPs and ensuring we set and hit deadlines,” CEO and founder, Pru Corrigan, said. “I want to stay positive during his time because at some point it will pass and life will resume. Our brands are now focusing on digital – this really is the future of PR anyway – Corona just got us here quicker!”

One size doesn’t fit all approach
When it comes to brands adopting particular strategies, it seems to ultimately depend on each individual agency and its portfolio of brands. Because of each brand's different needs, sizes, and circumstances, it seems a one size fits all approach generally doesn’t work.

“Our clients differ in their size and workforce, so we are finding it’s very much a case by case basis,” Little Bird, whose portfolio consists of clients such as Hot Tools Professional, R+Co Haircare, Kristin Ess and Mukti Organics, said. “More than ever before, we need to really understand how clients are navigating the current climate, the impact it is having on their business and how we can support them.”

Dateline Imports, which represents a number of well-known brands such as Silver Bullet, WetBrush, 12Reasons, Design.ME, Parlux and BaBylissPRO – among others – told BD that “keeping an open and constant stream of communication has been most important,” particularly because of the agency’s larger than average brand portfolio.

“No two strategies are the same," said Coote Connex, which represents the likes of MOR, Elizabeth Arden, Davroe and Revlon. “With some brands we are looking at very immediate coverage around at-home grooming – others we are pushing forward with new launches later in the year and planning what the new normal looks like in terms of presenting these.”

Meanwhile, One Daydream – with brands like Napoleon Perdis, John Frieda, The Body Shop and Beautyblender under its belt – said most of its clients are “exploring fairly similar strategies” in light of the lockdown.
“The brands we are working with right now are dynamic, and some have the most amazing ideas around giving back to the community, working with ‘out of the box’ ideas and people, and creating incredible content,” Corrigan said. “I’ve always said brands would become their own media house – now is the time.”

The importance of adapting
Perhaps most important of all, according to our respondents, is recognising that it’s really not business as usual. And while it’s certainly not ideal, businesses must adapt accordingly if they wish to succeed.

“This isn’t forever (we hope!), but in most cases, we can’t implement what we set out to do three months ago because the whole landscape has changed,” Little Bird said. For instance, hosting events has long been a favourite PR pastime. Social distancing, however, has definitely thrown a spanner in the works when it comes to promoting product launches and initiatives in this manner.

Thankfully, there are new and innovative ways for brands to connect with media and consumers. “For the time being, we need to rely heavily on traditional forms of communicating,” Little Bird said, adding that streaming and virtual events have come a long way in delivering great, seamless experiences.

“Events can still occur online,” One Daydream added. “Press releases can still be sent via email. Couriers can still deliver products to homes. Social media is bigger than ever. House Party and TikTok are here to stay and connect people like never before. The key is to truly define your brand positioning now. What does your brand stand for and why should the consumer get on board to support you?”

According to Coote Connex, the beauty space has always been a very personal one-on-one foundation to the way publicists present new launches – whether that be via coffee with the media, or showroom visits with influencers.
“I think we are building on that foundation virtually – Zoom catch ups with journalists and e-lookbooks for influencers to select an edit of product,” Coote said. “I miss the buzz and momentum of a full showroom, and the excitement of presenting a new launch in person or event style – but I do think what we are doing here, is back to basics with a virtual twist!

Navigating messaging
When asked how they recommend brands navigate messaging with media and consumers in this time of crisis, each agency placed emphasis on the importance of maintaining genuinity, support and trust.

“We want to acknowledge that there is a global crisis happening and express our compassion and empathy to everyone dealing with it,” Dateline Imports told BD. “However, we also want to keep our messaging uplifting and hopeful. We want media and consumers to escape the crisis for a moment and get excited about the new WetBrush release or their favourite hairdryer being restocked.”

“As the whole world is going through this, I think the best thing a brand can do is be real and genuine,” One Daydream added. “Don’t ignore the fact that COVID-19 exists – it does – but you can be an escape for your consumers and still have fun. Beauty brands have always existed in the online world – so it’s nothing new. However, the key now is to really support your audience and customers during this time. This is not the time for sales – this is a time for brand awareness and trust that will last for years to come.”

Coote Coonnex’s Maz Coote said that she personally looks forward to content that has a normalcy about it during this time.
“We are consuming news from many platforms around COVID-19, so I do like to escape back into beauty and lifestyle stories and content. I think we need to be very aware in our comms what is happening globally, but also in the beauty and lifestyle space work to be uplifting and bring a little joy during these tough times."

From a practical perspective, Little Bird stressed that brands should understand that consumers’ needs have dramatically shifted over the past few weeks, especially in the beauty sector. Brooks feels it is important to be aware that the media are still publishing articles, meaning they need content ideas and timely pitching – making it a crucial time for brands to stay top of mind and remain relevant.

How the media can help
“The greatest thing the media can do to support local brands is to continue to support them the way they always have,” Dateline Imports said. “With so much uncertainty looming, people need to feel heard. Local brands, like a couple that we represent, want to feel hopeful for their future, and will rely heavily on the media for coverage and exposure.”

Coote Connex also believes the beauty and online media should continue the “incredible support” they have already shown, by including brands in stories, writing news and industry updates around new legislation, and asking brand experts for commentary.
“It has been incredible to witness how swiftly and efficiently our publishing houses were able to move into business as usual,” Coote said. “True pros, little fuss and just getting the job done.”

Little Bird added, “I think we can all see that small businesses have and will be significantly impacted over the coming months. I have already seen some dedicated features on TV this week where small businesses are getting the opportunity to tell their story and encourage support. The media needs to keep those sorts of opportunities coming – the more articles like that are published, the more chances these local brands will survive.”

And while One Daydream is extremely grateful to the media for always supporting its brands through channels such as online stories, print, interviews and social posts, Corrigan believes the media could hugely benefit from “getting better at owning social media.”
“I’ve never understood why media powerhouses haven’t invested more into making their top editors into the social superstars,” she told BD. “Just a food for thought.”

Recognising the positives
While nobody is denying these unprecedented times have presented PRs with their share of challenges – think the loss of valuable clients, event cancellations, adapting to the media’s new needs, making huge compromises and seeing their brands suffer (among others) – all of our respondents agreed that it’s important to recognise and address the positives, while learning from the negatives.

“There are going to be great opportunities for agencies once Corona is over,” One Daydream’s Corrigan said. “Hence why keeping my staff is priority for me. Agencies and brands also have time to think now. Reset the future and dream big. Because work and life will never be the same again.”

“Witnessing the generosity of our brands has been really humbling,” Coote Connex added. "Elizabeth Arden for example are working on a project to gift large volumes of product to Frontline healthcare workers. Davroe have repurposed machinery to make must needed hand sanitiser, and offering packages to their salon partners to make sure they have what they need to keep themselves and customers safe."

Another positive for agencies, said Dateline Imports, is that no matter your age, or your level of seniority, you’re getting the chance to learn new ways of using technology.
“Normally we wouldn’t get this type of opportunity to be challenged so intensely, so quickly,” Evans said. “You just never know what amazing things will come from all this ingenuity. As I’ve always said, every day is a good day if you get to learn something new, and that’s certainly happening right now.”

“It’s times like these where business owners and their clients can show true leadership to their audiences,” added Little Bird. “It’s often easier for brands to pull back their activity, but studies show that brands who maintain a presence during economic downturns return quicker and stronger when the market resumes to normality.” In fact, BD recently published an article detailing why experts believe brands should keep spending during the pandemic.

Final advice
While our respondents certainly do not claim that their opinions are the be-all and end-all – as each company is unique – they were adamant that brands and agencies should try to remain positive, happy and healthy, however difficult that may be. They also stressed the importance of looking after yourself, as well as others.

“Just from a general health and wellbeing point of view, try and remain positive,” Little Bird said. “It’s a tough time for us all, but we will all come out of this bigger and stronger.  And, perhaps we’ll have a new found love of picking up the phone and talking more to the media, our work colleagues, clients, friends and family.”

“My advice right now for brands and agencies is to keep moving forward, don’t stand still, keep talking,” concluded One Daydream. “I know money can be tight right now, but with Jobkeeper, hopefully many businesses can get back to a new normal and see that spending some money now with an agency could actually help them long-term. Agencies also need to show brands how the world works now regarding PR. It has changed, but I know I’m ready for it.”