When the Treasury Department and Small Business Administration announced last week that they will release the names of businesses that received $150,000 or more in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, some business owners probably read the news with trepidation. Suddenly, an economic lifeline could become a public relations problem. After all, we’ve seen several high-profile borrowers perform an about-face and return their loans.
These business owners are correct that this has now morphed into a communications issue. Even if a business was justified in its loan applications and has nothing to hide, it could still face probing questions from local reporters who want to get to the bottom of where this taxpayer money went. But as long as the company applied for the loan in good faith and can prove they faced economic uncertainty from the coronavirus pandemic, there is no need to worry. With the right preparation, business owners can turn even the toughest questions from reporters into positive branding opportunities for their businesses. Here are key elements of a successful approach:
- Prepare to present your case: Prepare to recount in a clear and concise manner why you applied for the loan and what you did with the loan dollars. Be specific. How did coronavirus hinder your operations and slow your sales? How many workers’ paychecks did the loan money cover, and for how long? How did the money help you maintain operations and contribute to the local economy?
- Define your messages: Every company should have a set of core brand messages. These messages provide a spokesperson a map during an interview. With these messages on hand, a spokesperson can tie her answers to the reporter’s questions back to the key points the company wants to communicate. These messages can include details about the company’s impact on the local community, its crucial role in its industry’s supply chain, its innovative products and more. Unfortunately, many companies haven’t thought through and articulated brand messages. Use this moment to define your messages. Your spokesperson will thank you.
- Expect hard questions: Even if you did everything by the book in securing your PPP loan and have a great story to tell, you could face challenging questions from reporters. Don’t be caught off guard. Think through all the tough questions you could face and practice your responses – over and over again. With this preparation, the company’s spokesperson will be equipped to respond in an effective, forthright way, communicate the brand’s messages and make a case for its bright future.
- Focus on your audiences: Don’t stop at just answering the reporter’s questions. Viewing a reporter interaction as a one-on-one conversation is a mistake. Instead, an interview is an opportunity communicate through the reporter to reach key audiences – customers, prospects, current and potential employees, local officials, etc. Strategically answer questions in a way that communicates larger brand messages and connects the mission of the organization with these audiences.
- Say thanks: You received taxpayer money. Say “thank you” for the generosity and reiterate how important the money was for your business. Then, after reflecting on the recent past, look forward and talk about how this loan money is helping position the company for a more successful future.
Companies should welcome this opportunity to acknowledge receipt of PPP dollars and tell their stories. If you’re interested in expert guidance on how to navigate this unique communications challenge, let’s talk. Sikich Public Relations has helped brands – big and small, B2C and B2B – protect their reputations, develop clear and powerful messages, earn credential-building media coverage, and navigate crises successfully. See what our clients have to say and contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.