5 considerations for comms in times of crisis
Over the past few months, the coronavirus pandemic has rapidly and drastically impacted almost every aspect of our lives. We’re working, socialising, and interacting differently – and in ways that would have been hard to imagine just weeks ago.
Amid such change, it’s only right that businesses are questioning how best to communicate during this time; if at all.
PR and communications strategies must be carefully planned and responsibly executed, and many brands have found the right balance: Pret’s decision to provide NHS workers with discounted food, and Time Out’s clever rebranding to ‘Time In’ for the duration of the epidemic, for example.
Others, however, have fallen foul: take Brewdog’s rushed (and then rejected) efforts to develop hand sanitiser for local hospitals, or the recent backlash against Tesco’s decision to pay shareholders millions in taxpayer’s money, despite the ongoing pandemic leaving staff struggling, and thousands of people ill or out of work.
To ensure your business is striking the right tone, here are our five considerations for communicating in times of crisis:
1) Keep up the conversation
If there’s one thing that any crisis comms consultant will tell you, it’s that saying nothing is rarely the right approach.
Times of turmoil call for clear and carefully considered communication – not just internally to your employees and business stakeholders, but externally to customers and broader audiences, too.
If ordinarily, you’re a particularly vocal business, falling silent in times of hardship will speak volumes. Keeping up the conversation is key, and plays an important role in reinforcing your commitment to the market, your customers and your communities during difficult periods.
Make sure you’re talking about the things your audience cares about, focusing on the challenges they’re facing and the solutions that could help. Using social channels and email campaigns are great ways to keep the conversation going in an informal and informative way.
2) Think carefully about your message
While it’s important to keep communicating, doing so in an appropriate way is vital. Not all stories are meant for times like these, so you’ll have to think hard about which ones should be postponed for now – ‘ambulance chasing’ or forcing a link between your comms and current events are sure-fire fails.
That said, there will be stories your brand can continue to tell throughout a crisis – those that remain relevant to customers, your industry, or are even in the public interest.
So, if your announcement remains on the table, it’s important to think critically about how you tell your story; it may be different from what you initially planned.
Consider whether your messaging is still appropriate, or if it’s in need of revamping, and think about who is best to tell your story at this time; it might not be your usual spokesperson, and may even be a well-briefed, credible third party instead.
3) Remember, timing is everything
Crisis situations have an immediate effect on people’s mood, their priorities, and, ultimately, how they interact with your brand. These will continuously change with the evolution of a crisis, so for comms, timing is everything.
Take Zoom, for example, users skyrocketed from 10million to 200 million as social distancing and lockdown measures were enforced globally. Zoom is now communicating to a far larger and more diverse audience than ever, with user figures changing day by day; something its comms team is having to stay abreast of.
Consider how the crisis will impact your audiences’ daily lives, attitudes and the way they’ll want (or need) to engage with you – then decide how you can be part of it, and when it’s appropriate to speak.
Keep tuned into developments so the story or message you communicate is relevant and sensitive to the current situation – and be ready to make changes (or pause things altogether) at the last minute.
4) Understand outside factors and their role on your crisis comms
As communicators, we must be mindful of the external factors impacting the media industry and guiding the news agenda at this time.
Just like all businesses, media houses are working under the strain of depleted teams (perhaps even more so following years of journalist cuts). At the same time, the press is having to report on the biggest story ever, drafting journalists whose news has dried up (i.e. sports) onto desks that need them.
Therefore, not all reporters are experts; they’re even more time-poor, and they’re under increasing pressure to deliver the right (and most important) information to the public.
Make sure you consider all your angles and options before hitting send. If a media sell-in is the right approach, make sure it’s hyper-targeted and relevant.
If not, PR and comms teams can deliver content across other channels in the media mix – owned assets, email nurtures, paid ad campaigns. You have plenty of options.
5) Think beyond the crisis
While there’s rarely any time for forward-planning in a crisis, keeping one eye on the longer term will ensure your businesses is in the best possible position to recover and communicate effectively in a significantly changed world.
You’ll need to be ready to approach audiences who have new priorities and concerns, and adjust your messaging, products and services to this altered landscape.
Those businesses that have kept the lines of communication open throughout the crisis will be best placed to continue the conversation with customers/audiences after, and effectively realign strategies after the fact.
Those that fell silent may well have lost a considerable share of voice; missed opportunities to tell valuable human-interest stories, and could take longer to appropriate their messaging and adjust their plans.