Managing Communications effectively during the Coronavirus

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The impact of COVID-19 has been severe and it’s growing.

There are concerns over health and an economic downturn. Rapid, clear and effective communications to all stakeholders are key for organisations during the crisis, to protect reputation. 

Having a robust crisis communications plan in place, that is true to your business, aligned to your overall business plan and following it is crucial to managing this fast-moving crisis. 

Here Fortitude provides a step by step guide to managing your corporate communications during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

There are concerns over health and an economic downturn. Rapid, clear and effective communications to all stakeholders are key for organisations during the crisis, to protect reputation. 

Having a robust crisis communications plan in place, that is true to your business, aligned to your overall business plan and following it is crucial to managing this fast-moving crisis. 

Here Fortitude provides a step by step guide to managing your corporate communications during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Why Communications is a lifeline during COVID-19 

Clear and timely communication is important for multiple reasons. Primarily, to ensure the safety of your colleagues, suppliers and customers. While alongside this, communications can make sure your business is protected and its reputation remains intact. 

All forms of communications should be utilised to reach various audiences, but before any communications are shared a detailed plan must first be formulated.

Create a Crisis Communications Plan 

A company’s PR agency, and or Head of Communications must be part of the senior management crisis team. This is important to ensure communication is a key consideration in any decision-making process. 

It also ensures a company position on any operational news are then communicated properly and quickly (if appropriate to do so) and is done so in-keeping with the overall company communications strategy and upholds its values. 

The crisis team should do a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threat). What policy for cleanliness is in place in the business and what areas are being increased due to the threat? Do staff have the right equipment? Is there a corporate emergency plan in place? 

In forming a crisis communication plan, you will need to review your company’s needs and who the key stakeholders that require information are. Who needs to know what and when? And why? 

For example, many businesses will need to focus on reinforcing messages that empower people to follow best hygiene practice. It is important this information is communicated in an accessible and friendly way. Equally businesses will need to reassure staff, suppliers and customers in terms of operational matters and sustainability. It is important businesses demonstrate strong values during a crisis. 

The crisis team should include the HR director and an agreed approach should be devised to cover how to handle communications in the event of a colleague contracting COVID-19. Honest and swift communication is advised. 

The plan should detail messaging and strategies for each audience and include which members of the team will be responsible for delivery. It is important all messaging is joined-up, to avoid confusion. The plan should cover all forms of communications tools (website, social media, text message, letter, email etc.) and may require a change in how your business communicates. 

Tone of voice should also be outlined in the plan, for example calm and reasoned and never panicked or threatening. 

It must also contain four key pillars: honesty, transparency, accountability and consistency. This means being open, being clear about what you are doing and not blaming others, unless it is valid. 

A prepared crisis communications team 

To successfully navigate the COVID-19 communications challenge a designated crisis communications team should be assigned to managing the communications, with clear reporting lines and areas of responsibility. One key area to cover is agreeing policies that ensure swift action and approval of statements, press release and articles can be completed quickly without multiple input which slows down the process. Legal approval should be considered where required. 

The team should have expertise in strategy, digital and content. By combining these key specialisms fast and effective decisions and actions can be taken. Organisations need to be prepared for media inquiries. 

A PR agency can provide an instant, fast response out-sourced press office and media relations function. It can manage media inquiries, ensures positive messages are communicated, corrects inaccuracies and relieve pressure on in-house resources. 

It is advisable to prepare holding statements that can be used or adapted in the event of a media inquiry in order to provide fast and appropriate responses. 

Utilise monitoring techniques 

To ensure the team is prepared throughout it should use monitoring technology to ensure it is up to date on potential reputational risks across multiple digital platforms in real time. This will enable the business to be fully informed and ready to respond where appropriate. 

Monitoring should also examine what competitors are doing, what official trade bodies are doing, and what official health organisations are doing and saying. This could support a client with relevant live information that impacts on how they operate and what information will need to be shared with colleagues, for example travel restrictions. 

A monitoring plan should be assigned to a member of the team with instructions to monitor hourly, three times a day, or daily, depending on the client and the need. Be aware of Fake News’ and avoid sharing such communication. 

Leadership

Leadership in a crisis is crucial, both internally and externally. As ever, getting the tone of voice right is important across all methods of communication. A measured, authoritative tone is usually appropriate. In the case of the current COVID-19 crisis explaining what is being done, what can be done, and reassuring people are key messages to cover. 

The bakery chain Greggs for example swiftly reassured staff they would still receive their contracted hours pay, if they needed to self-isolate. Roger Whiteside OBE, Greggs CEO, gave media interviews to communicate the message clearly, providing reassurance to staff and trust in its customer base.

Equally it’s important a business leader does not communicate beyond their area of expertise. With COVID-19 a leader should united their team and customers and refer their audience to official health organisations for further advice. 

Consistency of Message

If appropriate you should communicate regularly as developments unfold. This will vary depending on the business. For our clients we have advised only communicating when the detail of the message is ready and correct, and the timing is right. While with others we have advised how to behave on general communications during the crisis – to ensure they do not appear insensitive or inappropriate. Additionally, with some clients we have advised not to communicate via the media, unless asked, but to maintain regular internal communication with colleagues and external communication with customers. Each business is different, with different challenges and so each one requires a bespoke strategy and approach. 

Messaging should be adapted for different audiences and platforms.

Internal and External Communications

When communicating with colleague and stakeholders during the COVID-19 crisis honesty and detail is important. If difficult decisions do have to be made that will affect colleagues keeping them informed will help them understand why they were made. Being clear, open and sympathetic is a wise approach. 

In most cases your customers will want to hear from your during this crisis. Communicating what you are doing to help minimise the impact of COVID-19 and that you are available to help is reassuring and engenders trust. 

Again, messages should be adapted for different audiences and digital platforms. A FAQ document covering questions your customers will ask for your company website could be useful, for example.

Providing clear, helpful, caring information and advice throughout will build customer loyalty, if your actions remain true to your company values. 

For example, here is a newsletter the Oxford Bus Company sent to its PickMeUp customers: 

Here at Oxford Bus Company, the health and safety of our customers and colleagues is always our top priority. That’s why we’ve stepped up our procedures in response to the outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Public Health England, the National Health Service, the World Health Organisation and numerous transport industry bodies have all issued detailed guidance and best-practice protocols. We have implemented these across our business in addition to our usual standards of cleaning and colleague sickness management, so you can be assured we’re doing everything we can to keep our transport services safe.

We recommend you stay up to date with the latest advice published on the NHS and Public Health England websites.

Should anything change, we’ll be in touch.

We’re looking forward to seeing you on board soon.

The Team at PickMeUp.’

A sensible approach 

In the fast-moving digital world, with social media and 24-hour rolling news, it is possible to misjudge a situation and for a piece of communication to be criticised and cause unnecessary harm and ill-feeling. 

Taking a cautious approach to output is vital. This can include not gloating or being insensitive and not rising to bait on social media. Equally it should include not looking to cash in on misfortune. 

Natural cosmetics company Lush got the balance just right with a clever piece of PR following the outbreak of COVID-19 in the UK. It invited passers-by at its multiple stores in to wash their hands for free to help reduce the risk of spreading the virus – with no pressure to buy any products. 

Keeping a cool head in a crisis and remembering it will end should be remembered during the process. What employees and customers will remember is how they were treated and valued. Monitoring enables communications teams to examine and better understand any impact on relationships and to provide valuable insights that may require further communications work. 

If you would like to discuss crisis communications for your organisation, please get in touch. 

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