Key Communications Tips Amid the COVID-19 Crisis

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In these times of see-sawing between global bad news and hints of recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, crisis communications has evolved into a delicate mix of art and science. 

Companies have multiple stakeholders to keep in mind during any crisis. And while stakeholder concerns may overlap, each stakeholder has different things they must prioritize: investors (Is the business still viable or will it require transformation); employees (Do I still have a job?); customers (Will you still be able to service me?); the media (What’s going on with different businesses?) and the general public (I want to understand what businesses are facing.).

Keep Messages Factual, Focused and Aligned

While businesses scramble to manage the coronavirus crisis this list of key principles can help communications professionals sharpen their company’s focus:

  • Keep messages simple and factual.
  • Have 1-3 key messages you’d like to communicate – not 10.
  • Make all communications integrated and aligned.
  • Employee safety is always a top priority. Make timely communications of safety guidance and related actions internally that adhere to government regulations and industry best practices.
  • Decide who has final signoff on communications – don’t wait on committee-style decisions.  
  • Stakeholders want to hear from you but be thoughtful and precise as “inbox onslaught” can add to anxiety.
  • Be sensitive to community needs; hold the promotional messages.
  • Use this time to shine when going above and beyond to help employees. As in:
    • Home Depot emailed customers that it’s giving 80 hours of paid time off to full-time employees and 160 hours for those 65+. 
    • Lululemon received positive press in regard to directing 20 percent executive pay cuts and board retainer fees to an employee fund. 
  • Post crisis conduct key analysis. “What could have we done better?” “Who is good in a crisis?”

Make Your Products and Services Relevant and Helpful

This is also a time to communicate your services and products that are highly relevant and do some knowledge sharing. Focus on what’s truly being prioritized at this time.

For example, with risk management and business continuity top of mind for companies, MetricStream’s governance, risk and compliance (GRC) solutions can truly make a difference to organizations that require increased resilience during a crisis like today’s. GRC does so by helping them identify hot spots, quickly get acceptance on revised policies and procedures, risk-rank the supply chain, and gather and triage feedback and incidents from the front line.

Looking specifically at policies, many workers aren’t equipped to work from home. Our Policy Management system helps organizations ensure that employees transition to working from home by helping them quickly adapt policies and procedures around Acceptable Use of Technology devices and WiFi networks.

At MetricStream, earlier this year, we rolled out a “Pandemic Policy” to our employees taking into consideration the worst things that could happen. We articulated four levels of “Triggers 1-4” and modified our guidelines in terms of severity. We were proactive and sent people home.

In customer communications, we launched a GRC Resource Center on our website to offer step-by-step approaches on how organizations can plan, act and adapt in crisis mode. And our Chairman Gunjan Sinha is reaching out to 100 customers in 100 days to have 1:1 conversations.

Make Your Communications Inspiring

This is also a time for communications to inspire. Especially during difficult times, people want to latch onto signs of optimism and be tied into something bigger than themselves – to have that feeling that ‘we’re in it together’. For some companies, it can be a real challenge to strike that balance of being both factual and inspiring.

There are also business leaders who stand out during a crisis when the communications get tough. Early on in the outbreak, Marriott’s CEO Arne Sorenson took to social media to talk about the dramatic impact of COVID-19 on its business and the measures Marriott was taking in response. He delivered painful news – a 75 percent drop in revenue and tens of thousands of employees to be furloughed – but did so in a way that was viewed as empathetic, reassuring and transparent.

Once the economy and travel industry reopen, communications will matter anew, as they strive to assure customers to feel safe and confident enough to return.

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Beyond Risk, Reward

The brands that continue to communicate factually and with empathy in a risky era have a chance to resurface from the crisis with deeper consumer and customer connections. Communications today need to deliver new and valuable, factual information that cuts through the clutter on your behalf. Impactful company messaging, it turns out, leaves a lasting impact amid tough times. And quite possibly, reward.

We’d love to hear from you about how your communications efforts are going. Feel free to share any new ideas, so we may share them too.

Mary Gorges, Head of Communications, MetricStream, leads the internal communications and helps in developing and delivering proactive communication plans and messaging strategies, aligned across different areas of MetricStream.

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