As the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak continues to become apparent, brands and businesses face the growing challenge of communicating their contingency plans effectively. The crisis, which has already caused major operational disruptions, has also forced companies to look beyond their current communication strategies and place more focus on proper execution.
The Technology Association of Georgia (TAG) recently launched its first virtual event to support brands and businesses, as senior marketing professionals shared their best practices in crisis communication. In particular, they discussed the precautions they planned to take and how their companies have fared so far during the pandemic.
Communicating Externally to the Public
Effective communication to your external audience is incredibly important and should be executed very carefully. “First recognizing that we are in uncharted territories is key but do not throw out your crisis communication plan already in place,” says Mike Neumeier, CEO of Arketi Group. “Employers should address communication in three main areas in order of priority: employees first, what’s best for the community and how can we help our customers.” A company’s reputation could be lost easily during a crisis, so effective communication is key.
In response to COVID-19, it is imperative that companies establish a clear line of communication with employees. “The key to effective communication internally is to look at the different roles of your employees first and ask the right question,” says Sarah Stansberry, CMO of DTNV. “Start with your customer-facing employees. What do they need to know and what do they need to know to say? Next would be the technology professionals: How are they helping employees and what tools are they providing to help employees? Managers would follow: How do they act with empathy but still keep productivity going?”
Stansberry also reminded employers to make sure that team members who can’t work from home feel supported. “DTNV has locations all around the world, and one implementation that I pride them on is adding a site leader to each location so that their executive team has a clear idea of what’s happening at each location,” she says.
Implementing Your Crisis Communication Plan
Many companies have crisis communication plans already in place, but what happens when the crisis is unprecedented? “There is no reason to panic if you didn’t have a crisis management plan in place,” says Carol O’Kelley, CMO of PRGX. “These things are fluid. Those who did [have a plan in place] are having to be reactive in this. We remained flexible. We also created a spin-off of sub-committees and an internal email address for people to send updates and feedback to.”
Communicating to Your Customers
With the outbreak having a significant impact on business operations, the language that a company uses to its customers should reinforce trust and reassurance. “We are working on a contingency plan which includes how we communicate to our customers,” says Novelis corporate communications manager Michael Touhill. “We are creating materials for our front-line employees and for customers. We are giving them that confidence that we are going to try our best.”
Touhill also stressed the importance of keeping messaging clear and truthful. “Do not speculate,” he says. “It is harmful. We are communicating what we know and if things change tomorrow, we promise that we will be in touch shortly after.”
Stansberry counters, “Look at this in a comprehensive way. The message needs to be aligned from all departments. We don’t want to speculate but we need to think about the ‘what if.’ We need to think about different scenarios.”
With thoughtful development and execution, your company can implement a solid crisis management plan. Remember that your company’s messaging and response to this crisis will be remembered for years to come, so make sure that your communication is practical, tactical and reflects your company’s culture.
This virtual event was sponsored by vLink Solutions.
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