During the COVID-19 pandemic, your employees, clients, partners and other stakeholders are getting their messages from sources ranging from the CDC to Instagram. Writing in PropertyCasualty360, KHPR President Gary Kimball asks: shouldn’t some of that messaging come from you? He provides guidance on how business leaders can communicate with their audiences — read it here.
For businesses, there is a right and wrong way to communicate during a crisis as tragic and widespread as the COVID-19 pandemic. We all know the wrong approach when we see it — but how do we do the right thing? We hope our Communications Checklist points you in the right direction
(It’s free to download and we’re won’t make you sign up for anything — that link takes you directly to a PDF download.)
If you need further guidance during this trying time, please rest assured that our team is fully operational and ready to support you. Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org for general inquiries, or connect with the Kimball Hughes PR team on LinkedIn.
A colleague recently shared an article published in The New Yorker in 2009 about how Kellogg responded to the Great Depression. In the 1920s, along with its main rival Post, the company dominated the then new packaged cereal market. The New Yorker summarized Kellogg’s reaction to the country’s economic collapse this way:
“Post did the predictable thing: it reined in expenses and cut back on advertising. But Kellogg doubled its ad budget, moved aggressively into radio advertising, and heavily pushed its new cereal, Rice Krispies. … By 1933, even as the economy cratered, Kellogg’s profits had risen almost thirty percent and it had become what it remains today: the industry’s dominant player.”
This is how just one company responded to a crisis nearly 100 years ago. But it does address a question many companies are facing in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic:
In the face of a temporary but significant economic downturn what do we do with our marketing and communications budgets?
As I write this, the stock market is reacting to the U.S. Labor Department announcement that unemployment benefit claims soared to 3.28 million last week. I’ll leave it to the marketing and advertising gurus to comment on their budgets, but I can speak to communications efforts that may be worthwhile to pursue in this environment, especially for B2B companies.
Some public relations efforts, such as product launches, events and location openings are being postponed or suspended because they aren’t relevant or would be lost in the pandemic news reports. Those are generally wise moves.
At the same time we are seeing a need for thought leadership from industry leaders who can write articles or blogs (what I’m doing here), produce videos and podcasts, and do anything to share valuable ideas and opinions with their audience. As long as these messages are relevant and well done, they can have an immediate and long-term impact to build and maintain awareness of a company and its expertise.
Ramping up social media efforts with the same type of messages is also a good idea. And not just because more people are working remotely, but also because it’s estimated that more of us are on social media during this crisis than usual. And this change, along with higher usage of mobile apps and other digital communication platforms, may very well be permanent changes in your workplace.
So, my advice to business leaders as you navigate the disruptions caused by COVID-19 and plan for the future is this: Think about what you have to say, develop a thought leadership plan for the short- and long-term, align it with your changing business plans, and start sharing those thoughts through multiple digital channels.
The results may not be as dramatic Kellogg’s in the 1930s, but building awareness of your expertise may serve you well when the dust settles and business growth resumes.
You don’t have to be a communications professional to cringe when you read certain emails and social media posts today. In the new COVID-19 world we find ourselves, it can be difficult for businesses to know what to say, when to say it and how often to say it to their clients and the public. Everyone wants to jump in with a message, look for revenue opportunities or offer helpful advice, but some do it better than others.
Below we offer common mistakes and some tips to avoid them.
4 Mistakes to Avoid When Communicating During a Crisis:
- Not adjusting scheduled social media posts in light of new circumstances. This should be an automatic step whether you’re facing a global pandemic or a crisis isolated to your business. Make sure you read them all, and then delete and edit them to be relevant and tasteful in the context of new circumstances.
- Going ahead with planned announcements without considering how they will be perceived. You may be excited about your latest opening or product launch, but such an announcement may be ignored or — worse — perceived as insensitive and opportunistic when you do it. Timing is everything.
- Being opportunistic. There is a difference between offering sincere help during difficult times and being perceived as trying to make an extra buck when others are suffering. It’s all about perceptions.
- Pitching related stories to the media that are just in very bad taste and opportunistic. Just take a look at this piece by Mashable to see PR people at their worst. PR pros should be able to know when they have an expert who can make a real contribution to a conversation and when it’s just a bad idea.
5 Things to Consider When Messaging:
How do you know whether your message will be well received or will make you appear careless and opportunistic?
- Put it in perspective. COVID-19, for example, is a global pandemic with unprecedented and tragic consequences. People are dying and more will die. Many more will lose their jobs, businesses will suffer and many will face economic and personal hardship. Most of us are scared and worried. Think about this when messaging and make sure your messages are in touch with the current reality.
- Make sure it’s relevant. In the context of the above, what is relevant? For example, this blog is being written to help prevent businesses from making mistakes when communicating during the current and future crises. That seems relevant to our audience and a way we can help.
- Does it address what your audience’s needs. Ask yourself if you’re tooting your own horn, going through the motions or really addressing what your clients, employees and partners need to know. Sometimes, as in the current environment when our mailboxes are full of COVID-19 messages, what your audience needs is a message as simple as “We’re here for you.”
- What are others doing? You don’t want to follow the crowd necessarily, but seeing what others in your industry are doing can help guide your decisions about what to do or what not to do.
- Test it. There no time for focus groups, but try running your message by a long-time partner or client who you trust and get their reaction.
For businesses, a compassionate and savvy response to the COVID-19 pandemic involves transparent, accurate and realistic communications. This serves to protect not only employees’ and customers’ health, but also a business’s reputations. In PropertyCasualty360, our VP Rod Hughes offers guidance on reputation and crisis communications for insurance professionals and all B2B professionals.