Coronavirus presents a time of unparalleled uncertainty, making it the greatest communications challenge of our time.
Calming nerves will be much easier if we think strategically and communicate – clearly, succinctly and often.
Wilkinson Butler is a corporate affairs agency specialising in helping businesses overcome crises and big issues.
In the below episode of Quick Take, we explain one approach we can take to help businesses tackle the three distinct challenges presented by the COVID-19 crisis:
- The immediate crisis: right now there are anxious customers, staff and suppliers wanting answers;
- The hard slog to survive: you’ve got to keep folks with you as you manage through this;
- The rebuild: as Stephen Covey wrote, Begin With the End in Mind, so that you come through this stronger.
Under the video, we outline the blueprint in more detail.
Here’s a communications plan blueprint for the three distinct challenges most businesses must tackle to get through the COVID-19 crisis:
Challenge 1: Immediately manage the crisis
Right now, all your stakeholders are anxious. The aim is to get past this hump – the immediate restructure to stabilise the business. If you haven’t already, you should consider:
- Facilitating a strategy session with the Leadership team:
- The aim is to get ahead of the crisis.
- You should clarify your objectives for each stakeholder (mapping and analysis). For instance, for the staff it might be to keep the people who are critical for the business.
- The strategy will be strengthened by unity and nimbleness within the leadership team.
- Writing/annunciating a communications plan – short-term – so that everyone knows where we are heading:
- Keep documents simple so they are easy to understand and implement.
- Roll-out stakeholder engagements – clear, concise, repetitive – including media and social media protocols if they are relevant.
- Keep up with what is happening: set up monitoring of traditional and social media channels and political announcements for intelligence gathering.
Challenge 2: The hard slog to survive
The aim now is to ride out the downturn.
You must be quick to change as your circumstances change, and maintain strong ongoing communication to keep folks with you as you manage through this. Critical tasks for your comms team might include:
- Fundamentally different objectives for your stakeholders.
- Preparedness to review the strategies and tactics: measure, review, react.
- Monitoring of the four critical success-points:
- Unity amongst the leadership team.
- Values-driven messages.
- A trained spokesperson.
- Nimbleness – change is the constant.
- Write or annunciate a communications plan, no longer a crisis plan, but a short medium-term survival plan with your changed objectives (this will keep teams together and motivated, keeping suppliers and customers on your journey).
- Intelligence gathering and forecasting via social and traditional media, and politics announcements.
- Responding to queries to minimise long-term damage to the reputation of the company.
Challenge 3: The rebuild
As Stephen Covey famously wrote, Begin With the End in Mind, so that you come through stronger. Don’t wait for this challenge: Challenges 2 & 3 can be concurrent conversations within the leadership team.
This is going to involve creative thinking. Those that adapt best, will emerge strongest.
To do this:
- Think strategically and creatively; as we emerge markets will be disrupted. In some respects life will be different: will we work more from home, will our ambitions have changed, will our products be different?
- Understand that the strategic thinking here, and the communications plan you develop, is focused on the longer-term.
- Know that how you operate through this crisis will dicate your reputation on the other side. How you execute your strategy and communications will dictate your reputation on the other side.
In addition to helping you with the above, our services can include:
Crisis communications is a skill built on experience. We give guidance to boards and leadership teams, and are available 24/7.
Internal and external communications
Where required, separate strategies might need to be developed for engaging with the board, leadership team, staff, customers, clients, suppliers, shareholders, communities and the three tiers of government. This may extend to the international community. Tactics include:
- The development of key messages for internal and external communications, including business continuity communications.
- The development of a digital ‘crisis portal’ for the dissemination of information to all relevant parties.
- The mechanics of informing stakeholders in changes of procedure, or cancellations to services.
- Training/coaching spokespeople.
- Writing/editing communiques.
In this crisis, journalists are struggling under the pressures of shrinking resources and the importance of this story.
We work with journalists daily and have learnt from experience how we can best support them in this situation.
The benefit to our clients is that, with our help, journalists better understand their predicament. We do this by first understanding your situation and then developing a narrative and key messages that reflect it in a way journalists can appreciate. This can lead to a better outcome for everyone.
Social Media & Online Reviews – Monitoring and Responding
Ensure your online reputation is kept intact through this turbulent time. Many customers or clients may begin to leave negative comments/reviews on websites and social media.
We are communications specialists. We monitor all social and web channels (including Google Reviews, productreview.com.au, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) and quickly respond to minimise negative comments, with the aim of repairing a damaged reputation.