Communicating During a Crisis

In the unprecedented times like we are experiencing now (or any other times of crisis and change), businesses need to think clearly about how and what they need to communicate.

Regular, transparent and honest communication are the keys to success in effectively maintaining your brand reputation during times of uncertainty. Contrary to our instinctual nature to ‘protect’ our key stakeholders from the truths of the current reality, it is vital that communications are prepared with the key target group in mind and with an emphasis on their key needs, fears and challenges.

In my experience as a marketing professional for over 26 years, one of my greatest learnings has been the importance of building trust. Trust is earned and one of the key ingredients to trust building is honesty – however uncomfortable it may be.

So what are some of the key steps to achieving this:

  1. Identify your key stakeholders – it is easy to think about the ‘expected’ groups i.e. customers, employees, shareholders and suppliers. It is important, however, that you look broader as there are many other groups you need to be considering. For example, bankers, landlords, insurance companies, advisors, CSI initiatives your company may be involved in. Prioritise these groups based on their importance to the future of your organization as well as potential groups who could impact your business negatively if they are ignored or not handled effectively. It is preferable to make your managers and employees your key priority, as they will play in integral role in communicating key messages to other stakeholder groups.
  2. For each stakeholder group, spend some time thinking about their key needs, fears and challenges. For example for employees, what is the current state of the company; what are the potential impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the organization; what does it mean for them in the short, medium and long terms; what should they be thinking about/planning in the future. Instinctively we tend to share the information available to us at the time, but do not shy away from putting the difficult questions/concerns you have out there – even if you don’t know the answers. It is far more comforting for someone to know you are grappling and working with the difficult and uncomfortable issues – this builds trust.
  3. Develop key messaging – based on step 2), for each group, identify key messages that need to be incorporated in the communication you are putting together. It may just be three or four points, but it is important you identify them. Also think about the ‘action’ points that need to accompany your communication. E.g. Are there any additional services that are on offer; is there a help line; is there any action you require of your stakeholder group or anything you would like to stress you are working on. When developing communications, remember your tone is vital. Empathy, concern, authenticity (remaining true to your values) and urgency are key while speaking to the stakeholder’s key needs, fears and challenges.
  4. Do it all again – regular communications at a time of crisis or change is vital. Even if you have a bit of information that could be useful. During a crisis or time of extreme change, people want to be communicated to regularly.

Remember, brand reputation is built over time. Long after we have got through the COVID-19 pandemic, your key stakeholders will remember how you responded. Be the outcomes positive or negative, it is the communication activities you put in place at this time that are critical for enhancing your brand equity.