Navigating the COVID-19 storm with strategic communications
What do we know?
Stock markets have crashed, borders have closed, and the impact on business is tremendous and ongoing. There are as many rumors and myths as there are infected people, and unverified news and misinformation is spreading as fast as the virus itself. The only thing we know for certain is that uncertainty is the new reality.
What do we need to do?
We need to use the current “down time” productively by rethinking corporate strategies.
Prepare for the worst: How will you as a business leader navigate through the storm? Do you have a crisis communications plan in place? If so, does it need to be updated to mitigate the impact of Covid-19?
Now is also the perfect time to start planning for post-crisis reputation management.
So practically, where should we start?
Communications is essential in preparing for a new business environment. Stakeholder perception is reality and various stakeholders will be impacted differently depending on culture and geography.
Establish what needs to be said. Decide upon transparent and concise details to treat as the agreed key messages. Tailor your message to your stakeholders’ needs. Credibility is critical!
Engage with all your stakeholders. Each stakeholder group has a set of information that they need to hear. Stakeholder groups include investors, staff, customers, suppliers, contractors, regulators, the public, the media and other stakeholders relevant to your business.
Use every available channel to communicate. Social media, traditional media, webinars, virtual conference tools, etc., have proven to be effective. Although the way we do business has changed, business must continue as (un)usual.
Decide who will communicate. Appoint a company spokesperson and train them in how they should communicate. This positions your company as a voice of authority that your stakeholders can trust.
Use the key principles of crisis communications. Provide accurate, clear, consistent, timely and useful information that shows that you are in control.
What do we tell our stakeholders?
The reality of this situation is that concerns need to be addressed and expectations reset. In navigating what to say, business leaders should prepare answers to the following questions:
How is the pandemic affecting your business?
How is your company dealing with the situation?
What is your company doing to protect its employees and keep them healthy?
Does your company have enough liquidity to withstand the pandemic?
What does your recovery plan entail?
Are competitors taking similar or other actions?
Different stakeholder groups have different needs, and these needs must be prioritized. Particularly for investors, communicating the company’s operational strategy and recovery measures is pertinent. Any concerns or tough decisions involving the impact of decreased earnings (which may allude to refinancing plans) should be shared upfront. Conversely, if the company is fortunate and operating from a position of strength, it is helpful to share with investors any bold plans to seize opportunities that may appear during the crisis period.
And what about internal communications?
Employees are most likely worried about how this impacts their livelihoods. In these times, trust and communication matter.
Be honest in your dialogue with your team.
Ensure all team members know the company position and who the main points of contact are, and prepare a balanced communications approach to tackle any questions on the company’s approach to the crisis. Employees need to know how they may be impacted.
Make sure to keep lines of communication open. Agree to a daily or weekly plan of communication and prepare to modify as required.
Resilience is key for business right now and communicating during this time can bring opportunities for leaders to make brave choices. Sometimes we get the timing just right, and other times we may struggle to navigate the process. Stellar communications is fundamental, and implementing an integrated approach, internally and externally, is more paramount than ever at this time.