On Friday, March 27, the team at NATIONAL Atlantic hosted a virtual Q&A to talk through some of the dos and don’ts when it comes to communicating during a crisis.
For those of you who were unable to attend, here’s a brief recap of the conversation:
Be human. Be clear. Be transparent. These are unprecedented, extraordinary times and no one has it completely figured out, and that’s OK. While we’re all grappling with social and physical distancing, human interaction and communications are what we are craving. Communicate updates clearly and consistently. Your team and audience will appreciate the honesty. Be forward thinking. How are you adjusting your plans today to positively impact how your business will show up in six to eight weeks? Now is the time to start thinking about and communicating those plan refinements.
Prompt, thoughtful response is critical. Social media provides customers with a channel to participate in the conversation, and potentially drive the narrative if you don’t provide information quickly enough. Consider what is helpful to your customers and staff. As situations evolve, and your operations or policies change, provide updates. But don’t publish communications with no real value or new information.
Strategic planning. This might be the short-term end of long-term planning. But we can create and develop answers to different scenarios that might play out in the coming months, from worst case to best case. We can react, and leaders in organizations now have to revise their plans to meet the new reality.
Everything is communications. Okay, we didn’t say this in the webinar, but we meant to: everything is communications now. Making major operational changes to meet business continuity challenges need to be communicated. Being a leader in your industry during a difficult time needs to be communicated. Positioning during the pandemic and when it subsides takes strategy and communications. Decisions on how you tactically and strategically show up today are significant communications moments.
Where will culture go after this? After 9/11, the themes were terrorism, protectionism, patriotism, and safety. After the 2008 financial crisis, corporations lost trust in governments. After World War II came the stability of the 1950s (in North America). Where will culture go after this pandemic? Will we become more social in response to isolation, or less social in response to fear? Will mental health become even more of a focus? Will health innovation be thrust forward and corporate citizenship reach a higher bar? We don’t know yet, but signals will start to emerge, and these will inform how we communicate and market.
There will be an appetite to move forward. We’re already starting to see it. As we all adjust to our new normal, communications will need to shift as well. While keeping health and safety as a top priority (and being sensitive to that in all communications), we can start considering how we will come out on the other side of this. There's no one-time-fits-all strategy for when we can resume more normal communications, and there won’t be any “picking up where you let off”. This is the time to revise existing communications strategies to better fit our future environment. Communications will continue to need to be assessed daily as the landscape changes so quickly and a poorly timed message might backfire.
Need support? Our COVID-19 communications team comprised of crisis communications experts across Canada is ready to help organizations effectively communicate with their stakeholders.