We haven’t seen anything like
this in 100 years: the coronavirus (COVID-19) and its ripple effect, that is.
Never in the lifetime of any worker today have we witnessed the simultaneous
closing of nations, schools, businesses, national and international
conventions, or widespread travel restrictions. Whether your organization
caters to consumers or other companies, your crisis communications plan is
likely stepping into high-gear. If you do not have a plan to address a concern
of this magnitude, the following tips should help you communicate with staff
and customers in a way that provides strength and reassurance in your
capabilities to lead and rebound.
Develop Cornerstone Messaging and Talking Points
Diligently work with your communications team to craft
a small number of strong talking points. These points should reflect your
organization’s commitment to the community it serves. Make them points brief
but powerful, easy to understand and repeat. Individuals are inundated with
information during a pandemic. The more concise and solution-oriented your
messaging is, the better and more valuable it is to your audience.
Anticipate your employee’s more pressing concerns (the
status of their paychecks, work flexibilities, paid time off, health benefits,
etc.) and be transparent about your methods for addressing them. If the answers
to their questions aren’t what they are hoping for, be as transparent as
possible about why. People are more forgiving when they understand why a
decision was made.
Designate the right spokesperson to deliver messages
and respond to questions—it isn’t always the CEO (or even one person). It may
need to be the human resources officer, divisional managers, or even the entire
leadership team. If time permits, have your spokespersons rehearse their
messages or run it by a small group for feedback and tweak it if necessary.
All content, whether through e-mail, town hall, video,
or phone conference, should be uniform and should not cause confusion.
Be Sure to Have Knowledgeable Staff In Charge of
Social Media Communications
Information travels at mind-blowing speeds on social
media. Your statement can be heard around the world in seconds. It is critical
to have knowledgeable staff to be proactive and engage in a meaningful way on
social media platforms. Long gone are the days of refusing to join the
discussion about your company. Don’t just join it —lead it.
A team with its ear to the digital ground can also
check the temperature of customers and better alert internal leaders of new concerns
Stick to the Facts
Individuals easily find themselves deluged with
information — some fact, some rumor — in the middle of a pandemic. The best way to combat
this flood of news is for your company to state only what is necessary and keep it
factual. Daily updates are encouraged even though this practice goes against what many of us have been taught (to speak only when you have something new to say). In the era, of COVID-19, silence may be interpreted as passivity. Be sure to
use all available platforms from e-mail to landing pages on your website to
social media and press releases.
Acknowledge Customer and Employee Fears but Meet Them
Unprecedented times rattle emotions and stoke fears. Communicate
with your customers in a way that is empathetic. Calm anxiety and clamp down on
stress. Edit your communication (as much as you can depending how much time you
have) to eliminate anything that may be confusing to the least sophisticated
consumer. Speak plainly, and remember that some of the most powerful and
impactful words in our language are “help,” “you,” “now,” “hope,” “because,” “strong,”
“can,” “feel/felt,” “understand,” etc. Your message should provide vision,
hope, and compassion.
We have seen excellent examples of corporate
communications within the last week (such as Wynn Resorts’ telling employees
that they will be paid “whether you’re in a closed outlet or you’re working”).
We’ve also seen some met with immediate backlash (Whole Food’s CEO’s suggesting
employees “who have a medical [emergency] or death in their family” receive “donated
PTO” from their colleagues). Even though the latter is apparently not a new
suggestion or policy for Whole Foods, the quote was swiftly met with
condemnation for being insensitive, tone-deaf, and out of touch with the
average worker. Perception matters, and one bad statement in a pandemic can
spread just as wildly as the virus itself.
Every business is unique and will need different
nuances to address its customers and staff. However, being proactive is
essential regardless of industry, product, or market. For more help with
executive, crisis, or general corporate communications, we here at Phenomenal
Writing, LLC are here to help