In such difficult times, the temptation may be to cut lines of communication, cancel marketing budgets and bury our heads in the sand. Don’t put your PR and communication strategy in stasis. Instead, look to adapt and communicate effectively during this time while identifying what preparation is needed for future operations and a return to normality. By thinking ahead of the curve, companies can emerge stronger and even experience revenue growth after a crisis, while others falter.
Managing your critics in a crisis
A crisis can bring out the best and worst reactions in us. Some businesses, such as Wetherspoons and Sports Direct, received criticism for their poor handling of the pandemic. Meanwhile, some consumers have unfairly criticised brands and public figures. Regardless, the last thing any business or spokesperson needs in addition to a global crisis is a reputational one.
The first rule of crisis management is to gain perspective. In this uncertainty, there’s one reassurance: we’re all in it together. Nobody knows the future, so don’t try to predict it or make plans that you’re not prepared to change. A little humility goes far in both internal and external communications.
Second, remain transparent, particularly in such fast-moving situations. Establish the facts and communicate information step-by-step to avoid fuelling further uncertainty, and segment your audiences to deliver tailored messages. We’re all fighting our own battles, whether emotional, physical, financial or otherwise, and adding a personal touch shows you care.
The importance of showing confidence in times of crisis
Whatever the size of your business, assured and thoughtful leadership can be a key differentiator. Crafting a good narrative and filtering consistent and confident messages from partners, investors and senior management to staff, consumers right through to supply chains is a crucial step in showing transparency, business readiness and building trust and co-operation. It is vital that messages carry a sense of purpose and don’t sugar-coat the situation.
So, at a time when external and internal communications are paramount, how can you do it right?
While a sensitive approach is always important, support can also be provided by spreading positivity where appropriate. Increasingly, we’re seeking escapism from the pandemic and confinement at home, and consumers are going online to seek positive news. According to Virgin Media, daytime internet use has doubled since lockdown began. Brands can play their part with informative, aspirational and engaging social-media marketing and communications, helping to add a sense of continuity when we are craving normality most.
Consumers also look to sources they can trust for information and advice, including brands and industry experts. A Censuswide poll revealed almost half (48 per cent) of Brits are reading publications more than usual. But, while coronavirus dominates national front pages, many other journalists and publications also need unrelated content both for daily news and future issues post-lockdown. By switching off your visibility in the short term, you risk losing out in the long term and will need to recapture key audiences and reignite media relationships.
Dealing with the coronavirus crisis is a test of agility, flexibility and resilience for many businesses today and demonstrates the need for communications that are factual, human and relevant.
‘Never let a good crisis go to waste’ is a frequently heard business maxim. Investing in PR today can position your business to thrive tomorrow.
Phil Hall is the chairman of PHA Group