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Crisis communication tips to lead your business through COVID-19

You will have heard it many times before – communication is key – and in a crisis like COVID-19, being proactive and knowing the best way to communicate couldn’t be more valuable to your business.

Currently your staff, customers and stakeholders are looking to you to provide them with regular updates they can trust and act upon. They not only want to know what the business impact of COVID-19 will be, but most importantly to your people, they need to know how you’re looking after their personal health and safety.

Now is the time when your business needs to be communicating more, not less. You need to be prepared so you can get information out fast, plus the information you communicate must be factual.

Effective crisis communication is the key to your employees continuing to have trust and confidence in the leadership of your business. It’s the key to reducing their fears, and to getting them to be flexible and compliant in administering your workplace changes. Plus it helps to retain them so that you’ve got your staff ready to move into action when this is all over.

Effective crisis communication is also key to keeping your customers or clients. The next few weeks and months won’t be easy for most businesses, especially those of you that rely on customers coming to your door like retail and restaurants, but if you can build trust and confidence through excellent communication, your customers will be there waiting for you when life returns to normal.

I’ve worked in crisis communications and marketing for 23 years and never has there been a time when a crisis will detrimentally effect businesses on such a large scale. There have been a lot of lessons learned over the past couple of months regarding crisis communication for COVID-19 and so many lessons learned from past crises.

So what are the essential components to effective crisis communication no matter what size your business or what industry you’re in? Here are my top tips.

Develop a strategy

Develop a communication strategy for employees, customers, suppliers and other stakeholders.

  • Write out the different scenarios that could occur, what your operational policy is and what you’ll communicate to each group. It’s much easier to draft your key messages and even some emails and other communication now, than to try and think what should be said when the full crisis hits.
  • Spell out the reasoning behind why you’ve put in place the policy or action you’re communicating and in the timeframe you’ve chosen.
  • Decide how you’ll communicate with each group – in-person, phone, email, website home page and possibly a page specifically on your handling of the crisis, social media, video conference. It should be a combination of two or more of these.
  • Decide who will communicate with each group.
  • Put together a key contacts list (including after hours) to enact the strategy when the time comes.

Communicate frequently

The situation both globally and in Australia is changing rapidly, so it’s essential that you communicate with your employees, customers and stakeholders frequently.

Don’t wait for the big announcement. You should be communicating at least once a week with each of your groups about COVID-19, and even more often when the situation worsens.

Consider the changing fears and concerns of your people and communicate to allay those fears. They need to know that you’ve got a plan and that their health, safety, job security and product or service fulfilment is important to you.

Communicate internally first

Your employees are the ones on the frontline talking to customers, suppliers and stakeholders so it’s essential that they always are the first to know about any decisions or changes. They’re also your biggest advocates so you need to make sure they’re on-board with what you’re communicating.

Be flexible

It’s important you’re aware of the latest developments in the spread of the coronavirus. Ensure you have a senior staff member monitoring developments each day, and that they’re also aware of the misinformation both in-house and in the media. (Even Donald Trump has got it wrong over 28 times about coronavirus, so there’s a lot of misinformation out there).

Stick with the facts

Your job here is not to pass personal comment on the spread and effects of the virus, as everyone has their own perceived view of what is the reality. Your job is to stick to the facts. Only use trusted expert sources for your information gathering and to refer staff and customers to including World Health Organisation, Australian Government Health Department alerts and Treasury economic response.

Whether your staff and customers believe COVID-19 is just a mass panic event, or they believe it’s the end of the world, your business is much better off sticking to the facts given by experts if it wants to retain its credibility.

Give reasoning

You’re going to be making a lot of decisions and communicating those decisions is important. In doing so, remember to always provide the reasoning so as not to cause further fear, mistrust, or misunderstanding.

Think about it this way. Banning all face-to-face meetings with suppliers? Why suppliers and not another group? What makes them more dangerous to be around? Explain why and how it fits into your policy so that you get less backlash and higher compliance.

Put people first

You may think that your customers only care about what services or products you supply to them, and how you’ll look after their health and safety. For your loyal customers and community-minded citizens, they’re also concerned about your employees health, safety and financial situation so it’s a good idea to address this in your communication.

Don’t assume they know

Don’t assume that the large amount of information out there relieves you of your duty to provide factual information as it relates to your business and the health and safety of your staff and customers. There is so much misinformation out there, and so much media hype that you can’t assume anything.

Prepare now for the recovery phase

This too will end and the best way to see your business recover quickly is to have in place a recovery strategy plan for marketing your business and communicating with your people. We know you’ve worked out how you’ll get back to business from an operational point of view, but chances are you haven’t worked out how you’ll promote your business in the post COVID-19 world.

The economic impacts of COVID-19 are going to be significant and the fact that we don’t know how it’s going to play out makes it even harder.

So be prepared and communicate frequently, factually and be able to act fast.

Written by Nicci O’Mara 

NEED HELP?

If you’re looking for expert advice on developing your crisis communications strategy, or you need a professional copywriter, contact Nicci today.

Disclaimer: Whilst this publication has been carefully prepared it is written in general terms and is intended as general information and to provide commentary. It does not purport to be comprehensive or render any advice. No one should rely on information contained in this publication without first obtaining professional advice relevant to their specific situation.

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