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TAP 5 | Business Communication

 

One of the things we see in the marketing sphere during the COVID-19 crisis is the hesitancy of business owners about what is appropriate to say. Business communication has never been trickier than now as clients face unprecedented challenges and hardships. Filomena Fanelli, the CEO and Founder of Impact PR & Communications, assures everyone that it is absolutely okay to market your business today; it’s all about doing it right. She joins Brian Powers on the show to discuss appropriate market messaging, building client relationships, internal communication, and more. Listen in and learn how to maintain effective internal and external business communication as we go through this crisis.

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Effective Business Communication During COVID-19 With Filomena Fanelli

I am here with Filomena Fanelli, CEO, and Founder of Impact PR & Communications. Why don’t you go ahead and give us a little bit about your background, your business, then we can get into talking about some topics?

I’ve been in the industry of public relations for many years now and I have my own from Impact PR & Communications. We’re a strategic and award-winning PR and marketing communications agency. We’re based here in the Hudson Valley where JGS is, but we have clients that are from throughout the tristate as well as all across the country, both for-profit and not for profit. We specialize in a few sectors, travel, tourism, hospitality, food and beverage, human services, real estate, and construction are some of the cornerstones of our practice. We love sharing stories. That’s essentially what we do is we help people share stories more effectively so that they can connect with their audiences and recruit, retain, garner new business, or carve out a thought leadership position in their industry.

We wanted to talk about our situation and what’s going on with the response to the COVID-19 crisis. What you’re seeing from your clients and to give our readers some tips on how they can help with their own business. Let’s talk about what you see going on with your client base and what they’re up to.

I think not only my own client base, but people out in the community are a little bit confused. This is an unprecedented time. Everybody still has the business to run. They still want to connect with their customers or with the people they’re providing services to if they’re a not-for-profit. They’re a little bit unsure about what they can say, what’s okay to say, how to say it. This is unchartered territory here so the biggest thing we’re seeing is hesitancy on the part of folks about what is okay to say. It is the timing. Get out there and market your business, to that I say, “Yes.” It’s not the time to overtly and aggressively sell. People still need to buy things, but it’s not time to sell. It’s always the time to market. It’s about doing it properly.

TAP 5 | Business Communication

Business Communication: This is a fantastic time to develop content behind the scenes or to shift content to be more relevant and appropriate for the time we are in.

 

We were talking about making sure your messaging is appropriate.

It’s having the right message, sharing it in the right way, and doing it at the right time. It starts with advice that is basic, but people forget this integral step, which is to start by reading the room. We’re all stuck in our own rooms. We’re all semi-quarantined. By that, I mean scanning the world around you and feeling out what’s going to be appropriate given the time, the news cycle, and that can change from day-to-day.

We’ve seen it changed from hour-to-hour.

Perhaps, a little while. It was April 1st, and normally a lot of brands will mark it around April Fool’s Day and have a bit of fun with that. However, now was different with a lot of brands. I think it was the right move, pulled back from the shenanigans, and joking around because it felt off-putting. It didn’t feel sensitive to the situation, didn’t feel timely about the importance of the dialogue going on April 1st. The brands that get it right are going to read the room. They’re going even to revisit plans they’ve had, whether it’s the timing of the launch and depending on what kind of business they are. If they’re helping us solve problems around this pandemic, the timing may be right to keep rolling forward, but if they’re not, they may want to hit applause themselves on their plans.

Push things back or adjust it slightly. I can give you an example there. I normally preplanned content for an eNewsletter that we send out monthly. I was so proud of myself pre-pandemic because I was ahead of schedule. I had everything plotted and then COVID-19 started evolving and becoming increasingly serious. By this time, it would have been the moment that I would start planning and programming to go out. I looked at my content and everything felt wildly inappropriate. Things I was talking about were canceled. Something that seemed such a great message a few weeks earlier seemed a little bit off-putting. That content will live on, it’ll be reshaped and used later. This is a fantastic time to develop content behind the scenes or to shift content that you had to feel more relevant and appropriate for the time we’re in.

Let’s talk more about the different messages that you can put out there because some businesses may have to put out actual communications that are needed by their employees or even their customers. Others will want to put out some feel-good information as well to keep people feeling positive. You’re doing some positive PR and helping the community yourself. Can we talk about that and some things to do and keep mindful when doing that?

An appropriate market message should be helpful, informative, or moving. Click To Tweet

I’ve come up with a simple acronym. What’s appropriate to pitch to the media, to push out on social media? It starts with asking is this the thing that is helpful to her or him. HIM is the acronym I’m going to use. It stands for Helpful, Informative, Moving. By helpful, this is something that people need to know. To your point now, Brian, it’s something that’s essential. It’s critical information. It’s helping us solve the problem in the direct community or the world. Tompkins Financial, for instance, which is a client that we work with, had programs ahead of announcements on the state level. They were in fact some of the first in New York and Pennsylvania to come out with loan deferral programs for businesses and that was a need to know the information.

People were in a panic they needed to know about it. It also felt good because it said, “We hear you and we’re here to solve this problem.” Helpful is number one. “Is it helpful?” We want to hear about it. Is it informative? I put critical healthcare information into this bucket. If facilities are being closed, if loved ones can’t visit their family member in a nursing home, that’s critical information. Hearing about every business I’ve ever encountered once in my life and their cleaning procedures may not be something I need or want to know. My loved ones in a nursing home, I want to know if it’s safe to visit them and what they’re doing to keep my loved one safe.

I have another client example, which is Astor Services For Children & Families in response to what’s going on in order to deliver critical services. They rolled out their telemental health offerings to help children who have those challenges which still need those services to access them. That falls in that Informative bucket. One of my favorite buckets, I think I’m not alone in this, is the moving bucket. That Helpful, Informative, Moving, HIM. Human interest stories are value.

They give us hope, give us inspiration, feel appropriate and give a bit of relief. Hearing your heart, I think of local not-for-profit, Unshattered, and how they pivoted around their business model. They were nimble in doing, and they stepped up to still serve their mission. Yet to now make masks for hospital workers and for some not-for-profits that serve individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. I’m appreciative when I hear stories like that. It hits on helpful, it hits on informative but also moves me.

People want to hear that story. You, as a business owner, might be hesitant to say, “I don’t want to brag or I don’t want to be out there like that.” There’s a way to craft that communication to say, “Here’s what we’re doing. Here’s how we’re helping.” You could also put the spotlight on one of those nonprofits.

It’s helpful. I think another great example is Angry Orchard is rolling out. Normally the Orchard has musicians onsite performing. They launched the thing called Stay There, Stay Home Sessions where performances are happening. People can join through social media and they’re donating tens of thousands of dollars to help restaurants. As people respond to those on their social media, they’re going to donate even more money. It feels good, it’s fun, it’s a human connection. They’re also helping us solve the real problem we have. People need entertainment and connectivity. They want to feel like they’re part of the solution. Our restaurant owners need us so much. I know you had JGS do a ton of work within that industry as well.

The food and beverage, we look now more than ever. They’ll need to look at their communication and marketing, saying, “We’re still open,” if they are. “How are things changing?” and communicating that to their clients. I experienced this myself. If you’ve got a good plan moving forward, a lot of times people think, “Am I doing too much? Am I over-communicating?” I don’t know if that’s necessarily the case with this situation that we’re in.

As long as it fits in those buckets that we talked about, I think it’s not. If it’s talking to hear yourself talk, then that’s not appreciated.

To be consistent would be good.

You need to be consistent. At this time, I recommend too that people plan for and develop things. They may not use them all, they may not release them all, but it’s okay to hope for the best and also plan for the worst. In doing so, we create a lot of documents we hope to never use for some of our clients. If not, they can go into a crisis communications handbook that can be used as a future playbook for other situations that may arise in the years to come. It’s important to map out, what’s going on? What are some of our possible risks and exposures? What are some of the bits of good news that we may want to share? Let’s start preparing those things before we need them. There is nothing more disconcerting then assuming it’s not going to happen to you. By that I mean maybe you have COVID-19 land within your facility or place of business and that news becomes public. Nothing’s developed behind the scenes.

TAP 5 | Business Communication

Business Communication: Human interest stories are really a value right now. They give us hope and inspiration.

 

Not having to be reactive instead of proactive.

It doesn’t take much time, but it does take a little bit of mental effort and facing the realities to think about, who are my points of contact? If something did break, who’s going to be our spokesperson? What is our response? Every business has a certain level of risk. It could be minimal, it could be huge. When you talk about communications and if you can over-communicate. One place you definitely cannot over-communicate is with your internal communications. People spend much time thinking about approaching traditional media, working on their social media or their content marketing and they’re failing to look around them. I had a friend who said, “The company I work for is doing a great job talking to all of our customers, but what they’re not doing is telling us what the game plan is.”

That brings up a good point. Can we talk about how you see clients or how are you helping clients with their internal communication part of things? Some people are saying, “Am I essential? Am I not essential? How am I supposed to come to work now in this new environment?” Are those things that they need to put out?

They should be, having a people-first philosophy has never been more important. Every good company starts with great people from within. When those people feel safe, when they feel secure when they feel like they know what to expect. As much as any of us know what to expect, they’re going to be able to be more accessible to your customers or to your clients. Whether that happens in person by a video call over emails, a town hall format would depend on the size and the culture of the company. When you’re thinking about communications in nowadays world, start with what’s right around you and then work your way out. You want to focus on that nucleus first.

Every company, no matter what the size, needs to have some type of external and internal communication going especially at a time like now.

Taking care of your employees has never been more important. That could be reading. When I talk about reading the room, it’s not just the external room, but also what’s happening within your own world knowing. Our team, we’ve all taken half-day mental health breaks. Knowing that when we do go back to work, that we might not want to flip the switch immediately back to the one that we may want to stage, based on our people, personalities, and risk levels. It’s having those conversations and letting the smart people that you employ. You have employees because usually, they’re smarter than the owner. They are smarter than I am. I want to rely on them, their intelligence, and feelings with me before we make a decision.

You can’t do it all on your own. You have to be able to rely on them. I’ve heard multiple people say, “Your true stars are going to shine at this moment and stand out,” because there’s some significant pressure on them whether they’re working from home or you still have them report. There’s still pressure there.

Those stresses are real and they’re felt among all of us. Did you feel like you had that nucleus taking care of it? You can then look outward and do an effective job communicating. I have to give JGS a big applaud because you’ve done something that we advise clients do which is to create a roundup of resources or a hub. Maybe store that on your website, have a dedicated page. That’s your batter on social media. It’s at the top of your website or doing these shows to communicate. Not just what you do and what it is you have to offer or sell. What you believe, the people that you want to support. I give you so much respect for that.

It’s a matter of trying to put your best foot forward and be the trusted advisor that our clients know we are. That mantra can be applied to any industry. It makes a good transition to say. A lot of small business owners could feel overwhelmed with trying to keep up with that communication. Can you give tips to say, “You don’t have to be everywhere and do everything?”

Pre-pandemic, I never would advise, especially if somebody hasn’t been doing all of the things. I don’t recommend diving in and trying to do ten things at once. I’d rather focus on one thing at a time, nail it, then scale it. If somebody hasn’t been aggressively marketing on social media, for instance, now is not the time to sign up for every account and start to drop content. Rather think about where is your audience? Where are they most likely to be based on their demographics and their behaviors? How can you best connect to them? Pick that one thing and then if you want to expand out from there. It is overwhelming and you don’t have to do it all. What you do have to do is focus on building relationships. It’s about connection over the content. You need to connect, you need to build on your relationships, provide value. The companies that we’re going to see arise out of this with stronger relationships and wider networks.

It’s a matter of becoming the face. Bring that face of your company out to those social media networks. If it’s Facebook, concentrate there. It’s a matter of being social. It’s a social media platform and connecting with people through it. If you’re a CEO or someone at a higher level, top of your company, is a good personality, start to use them to bring your message forward.

There’s never been a more relevant time for people to keep it real. People like to do business with other people. You’re right, if you have somebody who’s dynamic or who’s willing to take a bit of risk, getting front and center for the customers, letting them know you’re in this with them. You have the same struggles whether it’s children running around your home while you’re trying to run a business or your cat on the back of your seat or whatever it may be. There’s so much benefit to keeping it real, to show the values of your organization and its personality to deepening the trust that you have with your clients, customers, or your stakeholders.

I think of someone in our community who does it well and I’ll give a shout out to her. She is Beth Madsen of Elizabeth Boutique. I’ve gotten laughs watching her at night after an exhausting day of work share about her boutique and retail boutiques are in a tough position. She keeps it real. She makes jokes about the cozy Corona-friendly styles and the Corona chic fashions that are lovely for when you have a big trip coming up, checking your mail, or you’re sitting on your couch, bingeing on Netflix, watching Tiger King. This cat pattern would be cute for that. The way that she does it is refreshing because it’s honest. We’re all sitting here in sweat pants or in our leggings.

This is the reality of it. I think that honesty and the marketing, that commitment to serving your customers, to educating them, informing, and inspiring them. Even entertaining them as long as it’s done appropriately. A word of caution, humor is a tough thing now. I would recommend that businesses tread lightly on that. Justin Feldman of Feldman Physical Therapy did something that was funny, he dipped his toe into it. He nailed it. He did a stay-at-home bingo that had things from different moves like say lunges alongside pizza, alongside squats, and alongside grab an adult beverage. It was refreshing and of the moment.

Every good company starts with great people from within. Click To Tweet

It’s okay to look at ideas like that and adapt them to work for you. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. I feel like the other pressure that business owners have is like “I don’t do social media. I don’t have email marketing and now I’ve got to invent it.” There are plenty of resources out there that you can mold to fit your brand, who you are, and roll with it.

Even our traditional media sources in our particular community that you and I are in, a lot of those reporters are being fronted and center with the stories they’re looking for. They’re sharing on social media and saying, “Do you know anybody who?” and then sharing their requests. The playing field’s never been more level. The time to jump in is now. The time to take some more risks is now. Don’t let perfection get in the way of progress. Continue to market and build your brand. Concede to work behind the scenes on things that are going to be relevant later. Get real. Be of help to others. Give rather than worrying about the get and the rest will take care of itself.

I also got one last tip I would give you is to look at all the different ways you can share your messages. Once you identify, they’re helpful, informative, and moving. Think about the paid channels you might want to push them through. Facebook advertising, for instance, is far more inexpensive than it’s ever been. If you have something appropriate, you can really leverage that earned media, your traditional media sources. If you’re sharing information that the world needs to hear about or that you’re the first to deliver a solution. You do want to share that in media. It increases credibility. Social media is relevant now and even owned media.

I continue to blog. I’m blogging now more than ever. I’m placing stories that our team writes and that I’m writing in news outlets. I’m re-sharing them on our blog. I’m taking them over to social media. I’m repurposing. Not only do you not have to reinvent the wheel, but everything you create, if you’re thinking about it from paid, earned, social, and owned perspective. I didn’t invent that case. Somebody by the name of Jenny Dietrich did, it’s genius. You can take the thing that you’re doing now. One thing I noticed that focus on one thing, move that one thing forward. Take that one thing. Think of multiple ways to move it across those platforms and to get in the hands of the people who need it most.

TAP 5 | Business Communication

Business Communication: Every company, no matter what size, needs to have some type of external and internal communication going on.

 

Don’t think just because you’ve posted it on Facebook that you can’t take it everywhere else. You’ve got to remember, certain platforms especially Facebook want you to stay in the Facebook community. However, not everyone is on Facebook, so take it and bring it across the platforms, their constraints and what they want.

You might want to post native leads to that platform or you might want to retool that content to be appropriate to that audience. I’d be happy to share with all of you, first of all, whether someone’s a client of Impact PR & Communications or not, at a time like this, I’m always happy to give a gut check. If somebody is not sure if something’s a good idea or not, they can always send me an email, shoot me a private message over social media. I’m happy to be a second set of ears or eyes and to give a little tiny assist because sometimes someone just needs to know if what they’re thinking makes sense and is a good idea or not. They can find me on Facebook and they can find Impact PR & Communications, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, @PRWithImpact, or they can head to PRWithImpact.com. I have tons of blog posts including tips specific to the pandemic, living out your company’s value system.

Right now, it’s all about connection over content. Focus on building relationships that provide value. Click To Tweet

One of my colleagues, Sheila Bogan, who smartly summarized some of the things we’re talking about now and put them in handy blog posts so that everyone can access it. We’re going to do our best to share what we’re doing as a company whether it’s fun, quarantine recommendations on social media. If you’re looking for inspiration, music, and books to read or actual PR resources that whether you’re a client or not, we want to help you. We want the world to hear those good stories, to get the information. We want to support our journalist friends that are out there doing their jobs. They’re essential too and we appreciate them.

This has been a great resource for everyone that will read it. We appreciate your time.

Thank you, Brian. Keep up the good work there at JGS.

Thanks. Bye.

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About Filomena Fanelli

TAP 5 | Business CommunicationImpact PR & Communications’ Founder Filomena Fanelli is something of a publicity hound—particularly when it comes to getting the best media exposure for her clients.

She excels at what excites her, and that’s exploring the details of each client’s business to find the best, most unusual vein to mine for publicity. She loves storytelling and delves eagerly into company culture and context to determine what’s new or makes a client unique among competitors. Then she finds a fresh way to make it stand out in the overwhelming clutter of the media scene. Clients say she simply “gets it.”

Filomena got her start 20-plus years ago at Rubenstein Associates, where she quickly rose through the ranks to become a vice president. Recognized as a top publicist, she worked on some of the firm’s major real estate accounts, representing Atco, Belz Enterprises, The Beekman Regent, Commerce Bank, Chartwell House, Faith Hope Consolo (at both Garrick-Aug Associates and Douglas Elliman), Grubb & Ellis, Lansco Corporation, Studley and others.

Today, she channels that energy to lead her own agency and helps a diverse array of clients plot memorable events, secure speaking engagements, land leadership articles, craft sharp website content, engage in meaningful ways on social media, and, of course, get their names in the news.

Being an entrepreneur is something of a family tradition, according to Filomena, who was named an ATHENA Leadership Awards Program honoree in 2018 and graced the cover of Hudson Valley Magazines’ Women in Business issue that same year. A past “Forty Under 40” recipient, she says she gets her business acumen from her late father, who founded a delivery service company, but the gift of being able to listen and problem-solve comes from her mother, a social worker. Her parents also gave her a love of the fresh air and green of the Hudson Valley, where she lives with her husband and two daughters.

Filomena is an involved member of the community and enjoys volunteering with Hudson Valley nonprofit organizations and national professional associations alike. She serves on the executive committees of the Public Relations Society of America’s Counselors Academy and Women’s Leadership Alliance and on the board of the Dutchess County Regional Chamber of Commerce. She was on the board of Hudson River Housing, where she serves on committees with that organization, as well as for Family Services, The Arc of Dutchess, and the Mid-Hudson Children’s Museum. Previously she sat on the PR and Marketing Committee for Special Olympics New York Winter Games, was a founding committee member of HDSA Team Hope Walk – Hudson Valley, was a community advisor for The Daily Voice and hosted HVNN.com’s news show, “Business Newsmakers.” Filomena has presented for the Public Relations Society of America and is a frequent guest lecturer at Marist College, where she also has taught public relations writing as an adjunct professor.

filomena@prwithimpact.com

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