Communication Strategies During A Crisis
07 Apr 2020
An effective communication strategy is vital for businesses at all times, not just in a crisis.
We’re in unprecedented times and businesses are being forced to navigate their way through unchartered territory during this pandemic. What they do is important but what they say and how they say it is even more vital.
Even the most experienced communications professionals would freely admit that they now second-guess themselves on every email or public announcement to ensure they get the tone right so that they and their brand aren’t subject to internal or public backlash. A well-thought out communications strategy during this crisis is worth its weight in gold. Depending on the company and/or sector, it should be a multi-faceted strategy. It’s worth noting that an effective communications plan should take into account all communications to employees, shareholders, clients and the general public. How companies handle their communications strategies will have far -reaching repercussions if not handled correctly. Businesses have three key audiences and communication strategies will have to be tailored for each accordingly:
Employees should never hear about the possibility of redundancies or pay-cuts in the press or on social media before their employer tells them. Likewise, with any change in working conditions. At the beginning of this pandemic before any lockdowns were announced, employers were already making plans to have their staff work from home. It was difficult, with advice and guidelines from respective governments changing by the hour but the companies that got it right were the ones who kept their employees informed at every step. A simple email to say “we’re not sure how this is going to affect us as a business but please remember that your welfare is at the heart of every decision and we’ll keep you informed as and when changes happen” would have worked wonders for staff morale. In many cases, this type of approach bolstered the “we’re all in this together” attitude.
When it comes to informing staff of pay-cuts or redundancies, it’s always best to say it in person where possible. As so many people are now working from home, that can be difficult. A phone call from either the director or line manager is the right personal approach. As this type of news can be hard to digest, a follow up email outlining the changes is advisory so that no key detail is omitted or can be forgotten.
Regular communication with staff who are still working albeit from home is also a great way of linking employees. A weekly email giving news about what’s happening with the company or the sector does wonders to mitigate the isolation factor and boosts morale.
Customers / General Public
Customers are always going to be the hardest audience. In this particular instance, businesses need their support both during this pandemic and to play a key part in the recovery once lockdowns have been lifted. If there is no way to reach customers either by phone or by direct mail, then a simple message on your website or a notice on the doors of your premises outlining your approach is best.
If your business remains open but your staff are working from home, make sure your message conveys that. Many organisations have used both their own websites and social media channels, especially LinkedIn to advise their customers and the general public of their “new normal” in their methods of working. Restauranteurs have been forced to adapt and are offering take-out services instead with a careful eye to social distancing for both their employees and their customers and have used social media as a way of publicising the fact that they’re still open. Social media is a valuable way of reaching the wider community and to create positive dialogue. It would seem from the general public’s reaction that this kind of open and honest approach is the best one.
If your business has been forced to close, advise all your customers by whatever method available to you of expected re-opening times and give them a contact number or email to reach you. For some retailers, their online business has proved their saviour. Others, who cannot offer social distancing options to their staff dispatching online orders, are unable to avail even of this channel to market. Posting content on your social media channels, be it advice, photos or helpful videos can also help keep your audience engaged.
It is worth noting however that businesses can, and indeed have, got it spectacularly wrong already. Petitions to boycott certain businesses, most notably in the retail and aviation sectors have been doing the rounds. This is partly due to payments made to shareholders just days before mass redundancies or by the manner in which some UK grocery retailers have dealt with the thorny issue of home deliveries. There have been a few incidents also of global companies being accused of exploiting the COVID-19 crisis for their own profit or inappropriate and untimely social media posts. In the words of economist David McWilliams, we don’t have an economy in recession, we have an economy in paralysis. When the economic recovery happens, some companies may find themselves on the backfoot simply because of their own actions and lack of cohesive thought in their overall communications strategy.
The current outbreak of COVID-19 is already having a significant impact on businesses of all sizes. Relationships with suppliers may change as the lack of business will put their financial viability and ability to retain staff at risk. Sending out a clear communique to the suppliers of a business (cleaners, food suppliers, IT resources, telecommunications resources, printing etc) outlining your changed requirements is vital to ensure that they know how much to adapt their own businesses to compensate.
If it’s a case of a supplier being paid monthly for a service that has been drastically reduced, talk to them directly about the possibility of getting discounted rates. Most suppliers would prefer some income however reduced, coming in on a regular basis now with the guarantee of retained business once everything is back on a normal footing. They would also appreciate clarity as early as possible on payment
Acknowledging efforts by your suppliers is also a nice touch! Over the last week in particular, we have seen restaurants who are already adapting to offering take out services, posting messages of gratitude to their suppliers who they acknowledge are working flat out to ensure the supply chain suffers as least disruption as possible. An email of appreciation or a public post on social media channels acknowledging their help in sustaining your business would go a long way in gaining support and loyalty.
Why so important?
A good communication strategy at any time is important but, in a crisis, it’s absolutely paramount. The worst mistake any business can make in crisis communication is to be seen as heartless and calculating. Trust, credibility, honesty, openness and empathy are all key elements of any solid communication strategy. By doing this, you’ll gain support and understanding in what is a difficult time for everyone.
We will, as a nation, recover from this and Brightwater are here to help you anyway we can.
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