Communicating in the Age of COVID19
While you might’ve had a basic crisis communications plan in place, chances are it didn’t come close to addressing all of the needs, questions, and potential havoc that the COVID-19 pandemic was capable of causing for your organization.
No need to beat yourself up over the lack of actionable value in your crisis communications planning. Everyone found themselves in pretty much the same boat – navigating some constantly changing and completely unchartered territory.
So, what do we know now? We may not know what will happen tomorrow or next month or how and when we’ll come out on the other side of this. We certainly don’t know what the “new normal” will look like when it arrives, but we do know a few things about corporate communications in times of crisis.
1) First, get your audiences in order.
If you already have a breakdown of your audiences – maybe even templates developed for each in your crisis communications plan, you are off to a good start!
Whether it is customers, employees, shareholders, suppliers, partners, investors, the community, the media, etc. – your primary audiences will have different needs and questions. Your messaging to each key audience should be targeted and address what matters to them. Consider developing personas for each of your key audiences. This will help you put a face to each audience, clearly define their wants and needs and ensure that your messaging is on point.
Don’t forget about your employees. They are your MOST important audience – making up some of the biggest advocates for your brand in the community. If your employees don’t know what is happening, it isn’t a good look for your organization overall. Whatever the message, your employees should hear it from leadership first.
2) Establish A Crisis Communications Team
While initial planning of a communications plan and developing content often fall to the internal communications professionals, in the case of a crisis, it’s critical to have representatives from different areas of the business involved. Establishing a small but efficient team that can provide answers or approvals quickly without holding up the process is key. Consider including HR, legal, senior leadership and any relevant business area.
3) Map Out a Plan for How Communications Will Flow
Think about your various audiences and the kind of information that they will require. Determine how often each will receive regular communications and as-needed communications. Establishing a plan for timing, delivery method and even setting up templates for different kinds of content. Be sure to include a vetting process with your crisis communications team for getting each audience message through the approval process quickly.
4) Developing the Message
Getting your communications engine running is certainly a first step, but the message is truly where the rubber meets the road. How you show up for your audiences in a crisis will carry over – good or bad – when the crisis is over.
A few pillars of crisis messaging
Show Your Human Side – It’s time to toss the standard brand playbook and start fresh. Being human means being flexible. What values does your organization tout in good times? Is your current messaging reflecting those values now? If you were one of your customers, what would you need to hear at a time like this?
Transparency – Is the crisis impacting your service to customers? Will you have to furlough employees? Will you be fined? Get out in front of it. Better it comes from you with an honest explanation rather than a media inquiry.
Accountability – Do what you say you’re going to do. Simple as that.
Be Proactive – Resist the temptation to wait until you have more answers, or you’ve spent days crafting the “right message.” Communicate early and often. Even if it is as simple as clearly stating “here’s what we know right now and here’s what we don’t kno” This can go a long way in building trust.
It can be helpful to run each message through a quick checklist before launching. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Is this message relevant to the intended audience? What do they need to hear right now and is this answering those needs?
- Is the tone right for my audience?
- Will my communication allow for responses/two-way communication? (It should). Have a plan for who will be responding. Pay attention to the feedback you receive and respond appropriately.
Finally, we’re just gonna leave this right here. You will make mistakes. It’s simply the nature of the beast. Own your mistakes, learn from them and move on. Put the acquired wisdom you’ve gathered into crafting a solid crisis communications plan for the future.
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