Why communication professionals have a vital role to play in the wake of COVID-19
The coronavirus has had a devastating impact on business.
According to the Office of National Statistics, almost a quarter (24%) of UK businesses have temporarily closed or paused trading since the start of the outbreak. Alongside that, falling stock prices, disrupted supply chains and a world in lockdown has left many businesses in significantly weakened positions where they are even more vulnerable to risk.
In anticipation of a second wave of the virus, or an unrelated crisis such as a cyber-attack, it is vital businesses act now if they are to ensure their long-term survival.
Communication professionals have a vital role to play in this next phase as their businesses navigate the uncharted waters in which they are currently operating.
Review communication to date
A critical first step in building future resilience is to review your communication during the initial pandemic response. By identifying gaps and flaws within it you create a platform on which you can build, enabling you to address key issues and respond quickly and successfully when the next crisis hits. A review also ensures you capture and repeat the actions which were particularly effective.
Convene your team and agencies for an online meeting to run a structured review of activity. Set ground rules for the session: ensure it is transparent and constructive, with the emphasis on learning, not blame.
Start by reminding everyone of your COVID-19 crisis communication objectives. What did you want to achieve? What was your end goal?
Next consider how your crisis response played out against these. What was the variance between your objectives and what happened in practice? Take time to explore what worked well and what failed to hit the mark. Why was that?
Be honest in your evaluation and ensure you capture actions and allocate responsibility for implementing them.
Evaluate individual pieces of communication – internal briefings, customer updates, media statements and so on – against the following criteria:
- Empathy – does it communicate in a human manner that connects with and is sensitive to your stakeholders' needs/concerns?
- Clarity and simplicity - is the language straightforward without corporate jargon?
- Practicality – is the information useful and is it clear what steps people should take as a result?
- Alignment with values - is the communication in keeping with your organisational values?
- Credibility - have you provided evidence, examples or data to back up your messages?
To inform your assessment, take feedback from representatives of the stakeholders for whom the communication was intended. Consider undertaking formal research to understand how your communication was received by your key stakeholders, how they are feeling now and what communication they need in future.
VMAGROUP will be holding a webinar with Jonathan Hemus on how to review your crisis communications plan, which you can sign up to here.
Enhance your crisis communication plan
According to PwC’s 2019 Global Crisis Survey, by a margin of nearly 2:1 (54% vs 30%), organisations that had a crisis response plan in place fared better post-crisis than those who did not. Equally, those that kept their crisis plan up to date and implemented the lessons learned were four times more likely to come out on top.
Apply the learnings from your crisis communication review to update your crisis communication plan so it can cope with the next crisis in whatever form it emerges.
If you do not currently have a plan, now is the time to create one. Use the short window of opportunity between the first outbreak and the predicted second wave to develop a robust set of procedures and template materials which are clear and simple to execute.
The battle to protect reputation and retain stakeholder trust
Coronavirus is the biggest crisis management wake-up call the world has ever seen. But out of crisis comes opportunity. Communicators thrive and add most value to a business when confronted with the most challenging of circumstances.
Retaining the trust of confidence of stakeholders is the single most important challenge in this new phase of the pandemic. Communications professionals have a vital role to play in this business-critical endeavour.
Jonathan Hemus is managing director of Insignia, a specialist crisis management consultancy which works with leaders of businesses around the world to protect value and reputation when crisis strikes.