As the magnitude of the global COVID-19 pandemic took hold, many communicators quickly realized that their crisis preparedness plans simply weren’t enough to guide them through a problem of this magnitude.
In fact, according to a study of 300 communications executives and senior leaders conducted by the Institute for Public Relations and Peppercomm in March, more than half (54%) said their crisis comms plan either did not specifically address an infectious disease outbreak (44%) or, even worse, they did not have a crisis communications plan at all (10%).
Lacking a playbook for this scenario, in-house communications and marketing teams often found themselves in a catch-22. Business leaders often claim to be driven by stakeholder capitalism, focusing on the needs of all constituents, not just shareholders. Yet when communications teams recommended specific proactive strategies to effectively communicate to key audiences, calm fears and ensure stakeholders had confidence in their response to COVID-19, the response we heard time and time again was, “I can’t convince the business.”
Facing a completely unprecedented situation, business leaders often opted to do nothing versus face potential backlash over saying the wrong thing.
To truly operate in accord with stakeholder capitalism, brands must understand where their audiences are within the crisis lifecycle and what they need to hear. Real-time listening is critical to ensure your messaging isn’t quickly out-of-date and incongruous with your audience’s state of mind.
However, too many brands do not have robust real-time monitoring in place. According to the IPR/Peppercomm survey, when it comes to employee sentiment, the top methods communication executives used to track internal communication were informal feedback and listening tools, but nearly one in four were not tracking at all.
To help communications professionals put forth strategies informed by data and driven by insights, Peppercomm created Mindset.AI, an analytics dashboard designed to help brands effectively map their customer’s emotional mindset.
Today’s stakeholders – employees, customers, suppliers, local communities and society at large – represent varied mindsets that can shift day-to-day, or even hour-to-hour. A brand must understand where its stakeholders are in the crisis lifecycle to effectively communicate with them.
As the country and businesses grapple with the effects of COVID-19, increased virus hot-spots, battles over mask wearing and rising political tensions, understanding the right note to hit with audiences is paramount. Business leaders must speak to what their stakeholders care about, allay their concerns, support their hopes and help them engage with meaningful content.
The fear, loss and anger of the last several months will live with us for a lifetime and brands that ignore stakeholder sentiment risk alienating them forever. As professional communicators, we have the opportunity to leverage deep audience sentiment to champion the voices of our stakeholders, ensuring they are heard in boardrooms across the nation and that their needs and wants are not forgotten.
Jacqueline Kolek is senior partner and GM at Peppercomm.