View From The Top With Ken Evans

Small Business Canada

Ken Evans, Managing Partner at APEX PR

A seasoned, bilingual corporate communications specialist and media trainer, Kenneth has worked with a diverse range of communicators — from reality TV hosts to several of Canada’s top 100 CEOs. A 19-plus year veteran of APEX, Kenneth leads the agency’s corporate communications and training divisions, working with individual leaders and corporations in enhancing their business development and reputations through strategic public relations. Kenneth’s category credentials include financial services, insurance, retail, consumer packaging goods, sports, consumer electronics, alcohol, energy, and entertainment.

Kenneth is a member of the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers and a graduate of Dalhousie University.

1. As Managing Partner at APEX PR, why do you believe it’s crucial for business owners to show their support on how they are contributing towards the fight against COVID-19?

Firstly, our customers want to hear from us. In fact, a recent study by Corus discovered that 56% of Canadians want brands to communicate how they are helping in the fight against COVID-19. It is crucial for these businesses to communicate with their customers about what they are doing during this crisis period, how the customer can help, and how the business is planning to get back to business when this is all over. It’s helpful for owners to communicate with their employees, customers, and other active stakeholders about their tactics and pivots. By communicating their work and plans, they inspire others on how they can join in the fight, as many brands have done. Whether it’s producing or shipping supplies for healthcare workers or providing a relevant service for frontline essential workers, it is important to show how businesses are helping to galvanize others to pitch in.

2. In your expert opinion, what do you believe consumers are currently looking at when it comes to choosing a business / brand for their needs during the COVID-19 outbreak?

People are fundamentally looking for brands to meet their immediate needs. For consumers, that is primarily brands in food, health and wellness, technology, and so on. Canadians are also searching for ways to sustain as best they can the local/micro-economy by sourcing independent booksellers, restaurants who offer takeout or delivery, and other local services. They are looking for brands who can help them right now, to get them through this pandemic. These brands will most likely re-emerge when isolation gradually shifts in promising ways and offers optimism in the months to come. Lastly, brands that are showing an altruistic side during the pandemic will find a new level of loyalty in the so-called “new normal.”

3. What do you believe is the biggest challenge that entrepreneurs are currently facing when it comes to maintaining a positive image of their brand? Especially now during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Many small businesses are preoccupied with their short-term and medium-term survival and rightly so. Keeping the lights on and operations sustained for the sake of employees and customers takes precedence over an image.

However, I would still advise business owners who are working morning, noon and night to keep communicating, and yes marketing, to customers as they’re looking for a semblance of continuity from pre-lockdown, as well as eager to engage with brands and businesses that have value and meaning to them now, but particularly when the economy gradually starts to re-open.

Brands assisting with COVID-19 efforts, from a communications and marketing perspective, also need to show others how they are pivoting, helping their local communities so to create a multiplier effect among peers to follow suit, so as to improve the odds of re-emerging effectively.

4. Some businesses have chosen to remain silent during the COVID-19 outbreak. How do you believe this will impact their brand and business?

I’m sensitive to the reality that some businesses are just working double-time to keep clients, customers, and employees engaged and sustained, let alone communicating helpful news to their wider networks. But there are also a lot of brands and businesses staying quiet right now because they’re too self-conscious to insert themselves into the conversation for fear of saying the wrong thing. Consumers are fickle, particularly now, so keeping below the radar could have unintended consequences when things turn around, such as lost customer engagement and business.

But ultimately, we have a responsibility as business owners and brand leaders to show we care. To help our local economies, employees, and neighbors to ensure that the economy we come back to has the best potential to recover. That is the true essence of public relations, which is communicating to sustain and enhance the diversity of relationships. And that is why we launched our Virtual Media Training module recently. To help leaders find the words, deeds, and actions to engage in the most appropriate and sensitive manner.

5. On a final note, what advice can you give to entrepreneurs when it comes to brand authenticity and why it’s important during this trying time?

First off, let’s define authenticity because it’s thrown around a lot. Brand authenticity means to be genuine to your core values and your organizational mission. It will be different in the context of working through what the business means today, during the pandemic, and what it will mean after. The world will not be the same as it was before March 15, but what will remain intact are brand values. Business owners must hold these values near and dear throughout the pandemic as many customers have not visited or engaged with their business for two months or more. Thus, it is important to remind customers that you are here, you will be here and your core business concepts will be here once this is all over.

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