Keep communicating & carry on: On the importance of thoughtful media relations in a crisis

PR aficionados Henrietta Harwood-Smith and Tania Thomas share some sage advice on media communications during the Coronavirus lockdown, revealing what property businesses should be doing now, and how they can prepare for the future…

It may feel like battening down the hatches down is the best PR strategy during this unprecedented Coronavirus lockdown. Once Britain’s favourite conversation topic, property has fallen into the nether regions of the national consciousness, behind Covid-19 and Brexit, at least. But is hunkering down really the best way for businesses to deal with a crisis? The team at Maison Communications doesn’t think so. Founders Henrietta Harwood-Smith and Tania Thomas have worked with major prime resi brands including national estate agency networks and international luxury developers; current clients range from influential interior design houses Laura Hammett and Angel O’Donnell to top-flight London property developers Banda and Martin’s Properties. Here the duo shares some sage advice for PR during the lockdown, revealing what property businesses should be doing now, and how they can prepare for the future.


Henrietta Harwood-Smith (left) & Tania Thomas (right), founders of Maison Communications

Success in the property industry will always be underpinned by the strength of relationships. How businesses communicate during this lockdown period with their clients, their employees and their suppliers will form the springboard for how they are perceived when restrictions are lifted. 

It is important to use this time wisely and strategically to take advantage of the recovery period, whenever that comes. Those who position themselves innovatively and ethically will undoubtedly be the ones that shine. Communication is more important than ever.

When it comes to positive perception in the media and across social channels specifically it’s less about “business as usual” and brand communication in the traditional sense and more about thought. The press want to hear about the positive, thoughtful actions businesses are taking to overcome the crisis and they also want solid advice on how the property industry can recover. 

Whilst it may be tempting to batten down the hatches, keep a low profile and quietly wait for circumstances to improve, lockdown doesn’t have to mean that you are locked out of the conversation

Now more than ever, people are reading the news, whether it be the papers, online or social media, searching for stories underpinned by community and hope – Captain Tom Moore’s £26 million for the NHS has unintentionally been the biggest PR success during #coronalockdown  – which makes it all the more heart-warming. Property and interior/design brands too have also been going over and above to do their bit.

A few highlights are:

  • ALTIDO, a luxury short-term rental accommodation provider was the FIRST to host 6 NHS workers in their homes for free for 4 to 12 weeks and they hope to house a further 10.
  • Couture Editions the high quality photographic artwork platform which produces exclusive prints and host an extensive image library operating within the luxury interior design industry, is raising money for NHS through their black and white image library (Monochrome). ALL of the profits from the sales of this campaign will go to NHS Charities Together:  They have a huge selection of photography for sale and will oversee all of the printing and framing.
  • Interiors with Art (Ro Sharma) – this prestigious luxury design and construction firm is working with Med Supply Drive UK and Shieldproject.org to collate donations of PPE from across industry and manufacture PPE, e.g. 3D printer visors, which is then distribute across the country to NHS and care workers as an emergency PPE provider.
  • The Landmark Trust, a charity which rents out restored historic buildings as holiday homes, is offering flats to medics in Shoreditch. 
  • Interior Designer Susie Atkinson is raising funds through a Charity Auction for NHS foodbanks, namely the Hammersmith & Fulham Food bank, close to many of the designer’s studios at the Design Centre, and the Hampshire Medical Fund.

Many of our own clients have been contributing to the cause, either directly to the NHS, or to support the public affected by the pandemic lockdown. Here are some examples:

  • London property and investment company Martin’s Properties have offered vacant residential units kindly furnished by Carole Anne Designs to Chelsea and Westminster NHS workers.
  • Private aviation firm Jetfly’s clients have donated 200 hours of flight time to transport PPE and medical professionals across the UK and Europe.
  • Interior Designer Laura Hammett is fund raising for COVID-19 by collaborating with other designers and suppliers including Loom, Robert Langford, Stuart Fox, Little Greene and Philip Jefferies to give away a completely bespoke furnished and styled bedroom with a total value of over £20,000.
  • Interior design studio Angel O’Donnell is offering free interior design advice to its followers on social media.

There have also been some individuals and brands that have misjudged the mood – PR Week does a brilliant weekly “tops and flops” analysis (www.prweek.com/article/1680605/tops-flops-week-captain-tom-priti-patel-eamonn-holmes-co-op).

When thinking about the success stories it’s not just the immediate press releases going out about good deeds and community outreach that will position businesses in a positive light, it’s the strategising internally for the future. When restrictions are lifted the landscape is undeniably going to be different. Those who do their best to prepare for new ways of doing business and lead the way in their own sectors of the property industry, whilst remaining flexible will be the winners. When we take the tentative steps to going back to work officially thoughtful communications will be crucial to success and should be woven into wider thinking now.


Five tips for media relations in a crisis

Maison’s five top tips for communicating with the media during lockdown are:

  1. Take note of the changing media landscape and show empathy – many publications have changed format (a few are only running online, supplements have been reduced and are coming out on different days or as part of other sections), some writers have been furloughed or covering different topics, e.g. not just property, but also news, and be sympathetic to their own situations. Importantly keep buying and subscribing to our national newspapers – they need our support more than ever.
  2. Market comment needs to be honest and educated, underpinned by data and facts rather than general or bullish. 
  3. Keep your content to the point, factual, interesting and concise. 
  4. Get creative and think long term – take this time to review your messaging and brand values and check these will resonate post current climate.
  5. Demonstrate collaboration with peers – we are all in this together – don’t think of and pitch only your own agenda but think about how you can you help others and how we can get through this as an industry team, by supporting one another.

Keep communicating
& carry on

Whilst it may be tempting to batten down the hatches, keep a low profile and quietly wait for circumstances to improve, lockdown doesn’t have to mean that you are locked out of the conversation. The ones whose voices and actions are recognised during this crisis will undoubtedly be the ones who emerge positively to return to business as usual. Keep communicating and carry on.

The Maison team