The immense havoc caused by the spread of coronavirus is becoming clearer with every passing day. Entire industries (e.g. airlines and leisure) are now under existential threat. What’s worse, for every behemoth that makes the news, there are hundreds of smaller businesses who are at risk of going under without so much as a ripple in their wake. We are experiencing a moment of extreme disruption, both to our business and personal lives.
Communicating into this maelstrom is a delicate and difficult task. Get it right and you can help secure your future. Get it wrong, however, and you can place that future at risk.
Here are a few of our best practices for communicating during this crisis environment:
1. Review and edit your existing message roll out
Most businesses plan content and campaigns for weeks and months in advance – with a broad mix of distribution (e.g. print, broadcast, radio, online). As the response to the virus lengthens, businesses will need to review their existing campaigns to ensure they’re in keeping with the spirit of the occasion. To pick one example, any cheeky April Fool’s content can probably now be placed in the bin.
The mix of message placement will also need to be considered. With more people working from home a move to upweight digital and broadcast buys makes sense.
2. Don’t shoehorn your way into the news coverage unless you have relevant information.
The temptation to ‘newsjack’ is always strong during a newsy period but it should be avoided at all costs when lives are at stake, unless your business has relevant information to share. How your food delivery business is moving to contact free delivery is useful information; using coronavirus as a hook to sell more condoms probably isn’t.
There is also value in being understated. For example, when LVMH announced they were going to convert their fragrance production lines to the manufacture of sanitiser gel they did it in a matter-of-fact way, not in a way that was searching for approbation.
3. It’s tough out there, so be consistent, clear, and complete in your information
Times of crisis are a time for radical transparency. There is no point sugaring the pill or avoiding the uncomfortable truth: you will be found out. If there is bad news share it, along with a plan to make things right (if you have one).
The coronavirus also appears set to be with us for a long time (some experts say 18 months). Businesses therefore need to have a good think about how they plan on pitching their products and services in the face of a long and unprecedented shutdown of a modern economy. And if their businesses don’t look to be able to weather the storm, they need to explain to the government and their customers why (and what) help is needed.
4. Internal communication is as important as external communication
Your employees are what deliver your business so deliver information to them as often (and as early) as you can. This means starting your internal communication efforts before you build out your communication to the outside world. The last thing you want in a fearful time is for your employees to find out news about their place of work in the press.
5. Remember the real victims
Remember that, no matter how badly you or your business is suffering, there is simply more at stake. Lives are at risk and people are more scared over their personal well being than your bottom line.
This goes for athletes and celebrities, too. This isn’t a time for either a laugh or a pity party – use the occasion to instead sympathise with your fan base and encourage them to do all of the things public health officials are recommending they do.
We are in unprecedented times and businesses and brands are going to be tested in a way they have not since at least the Second World War. Clear, consistent, and appropriate communications will be a must, with employees and customers front of mind.