Business Communications in Today’s Brave New COVID-19 World
While COVID-19 reaches what we hope will be its apex in America, the world of communications as we once knew it is no more and the environment continues to change at a breakneck speed. Our team at Elevate has been laser focused on helping our clients devise strategies to effectively navigate the complexities of this environment. In challenging times that force us to wade into unchartered waters, it’s critical for all brands to be flexible, nimble and prepared to adapt to the rapidly evolving circumstances and adjust their communications strategy to ensure they can effectively deliver their message to their key stakeholders. Even for practitioners with decades of experience in communications, a crisis of this nature can be daunting, and that’s why it’s even more critical for all corporations to have a basic crisis communications plan in place that details how the organization will handle and communicate internally and externally about the crisis.
That said, the functional impact of the coronavirus is both unique and extremely fluid, forcing brands into uncharted territory. Not only are organizations re-examining their bottom lines and forecasting, they are adapting their workflows and business processes to adjust to today’s brave new world of quarantines, social distancing, and teleworking – and doing so with limited visibility and no clear end point. But how should brands communicate and “stay close” to their internal and external community of stakeholders during these challenging times, when it’s all about keeping the appropriate amount of distance?
To quote one of history’s great crisis managers and communicators, Winston Churchill, “Let our advance worrying become advance thinking and planning.” With that in mind, let’s dig in.
During this elongated period of uncertainty, it’s essential for brands to continue to reach out to their customers, partners, and employees and communicate the measures they are taking to adjust to the new environment, while still achieving their mission. Showing continued leadership and presenting a voice “out in front” is absolutely essential in offering optimism during and after the storm. Here are a few fundamental steps brands can take to navigate the COVID-19 communications landscape.
The Brand Messenger
In times of crisis, leadership is everything. Employing a designated spokesperson, such as the CEO, to disseminate your message is highly recommended and conveys transparency, stability, and strength.
The singular voice of a CEO as your corporate spokesperson ensures the best chance for “message consistency.” This singularity of message is critical when providing sensitive information about what is occurring, and the steps being taken to mitigate Covid-19. He or she can outline the short-term challenges while offering solutions and contingency plans that project stability, stability, and optimism about the road ahead.
“Kites rise highest against the wind – not with it.”
– Winston Churchill (yes, we’re quoting him again).
Build Trust, Be Informative and Upbeat
Stay upbeat and develop messaging that reassures and informs, rather than trying to create a selling opportunity and always be honest. Showing empathy, being human, and providing guidance builds trust and loyalty in your brand. And remember, brand authenticity garners brand advocacy.
What to Say – Examples
What can brands talk about and share in today’s COVID-19 communications environment? Here are a few examples of content to be shared with both internal and external audiences:
- Highlight steps the company is taking to maintain business operations and communicate the potential impact on stakeholder in a timely manner as possible.
- Outline new processes, initiatives and/or potential innovations your company is using to adapt to today’s coronavirus business environment – and if possible, show how it’s already showing progress or been effective.
- Describe tools, approaches and resources you are employing to protect employees & stakeholders from possible exposure such as enhanced cleaning and social distancing etc.
- Detail business-specific recommendations and best practices for remote working and maximizing creativity, adaptability, and productivity with connectivity your sector.
- Share employee spotlights, conversation topics or comments that foster connectivity and provide internal audiences with a feel-good morale booster.
Consistency of Delivery
In times of crisis and acute change, it’s critical for brands to communicate clearly, efficiently and effectively. To control the narrative, we recommend brands share a statement or update as soon as possible, and then set regular cadence for follow-up communications, depending on your industry and audience. Developing a consistent schedule of communications is vital for effective crisis communications and “message pull-through.” Down the road, as things emerge or evolve, you can adjust the cadence and sequencing to optimize message delivery. And, even if you don’t have something entirely new to say, it’s important not to go dark or stay quiet too long, as your constituencies could become nervous. It’s OK to provide updates that repeat or build on messages you’ve already communicated, especially if you are reiterating key elements of your plan.
To quote (again) our good friend Sir Winston: “If you have an important point to make, don’t try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time – a tremendous whack.”
Right now, the only thing constant is change. It’s critical for brands to continue to stay out in front and communicate proactively to all audiences, rather than being forced to quickly react. Interested in learning more about best practices for effective communications in this time of crisis? Need some extra hands on deck? We’ve got ‘em. Contact our team at Elevate at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know how we can help.