Early during the COVID-19 pandemic lock down, I was scrolling through Facebook and came across a sponsored ad telling me now was the time to purchase new swimwear for a cruise. I did a double take. Didn’t the retailer realize many tourists were sick, stranded, or both on cruise ships around the world?
It’s likely the ad was placed weeks or months before the global pandemic began and the company didn’t realize it was running. Still, it was off-putting and underscores the need for companies and organizations to evaluate current communications and pivot if necessary. Given the massive impact on nearly every aspect of life, it’s likely most strategies and messages need to adjusted. Companies need to prioritize to whom and how they communicate as well as craft messaging with extreme care.
A perfect example of a major communications pivot is Marriott International. With 75 percent of their hotel properties offline, Marriott has suspended all promotional advertising. Employee communications is now the top priority. Essential information on the impact of COVID-19 on the company, steps taken to ensure the long-term viability of the brand, employees furloughs and salary cuts, and soon, details on bringing properties back online is being shared across the organization – maids, managers and execs – with empathy, honesty and clarity. Here’s a powerful video from Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson who demonstrates powerful leadership and authenticity.
The ongoing need to communicate
As an experienced crisis communications communicator, I’ve been advising clients on the whys and hows to communicate with key stakeholders through the pandemic. Each has unique reasons to communicate, but the key driver is keeping people informed of things important to their lives, jobs and relationships with the company.
Here are some examples: CPA firms need to share important information related to tax deadlines and business continuity planning. Banks need to explain how small businesses can apply for loans and federal support. Retailers must communicate new hours, procedures for safer shopping or switch to temporary online shopping only. Restaurants need to share new hours or means of operation. Those that have furloughed employees need to clearly communicate how people will be brought back to work once businesses are allowed to re-open.
Regardless of how essential these communications are, how they are messaged and delivered can be tricky. Do it poorly and companies risk damaging relationships and brand.
The thing to avoid when communicating during a crisis is appearing insincere or opportunistic. To help guide your organization’s actions and messaging, here are eight questions to ask:
- What is our overall strategy: immediate, short term and long term?
- Is there an immediate need for this information or would it be better to hold off to a later time?
- Does this content reflect the audience’s current lifestyle, situation or access to resources or does it make assumptions?
- Is the information we’re sharing useful to our audience?
- Is the tone appropriate or does it make light of a serious subject?
- Is there a risk our brand may come across as profiteering from the situation?
- Will our message, written or visual, contribute to a sense of panic or a sense of reassurance?
- Our we consistent with our messaging across all audiences, both internal and external?
You can do this!
Communicating in a crisis is essential. Communicating effectively in a crisis takes effort and mindfulness. Sometimes is requires help from a professional with experience in crisis communications strategy and messaging. Lux-Writes can help. Here’s a quick link to more information. If you have questions and need advice, please reach out to me at 803.331.4794 or firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll get through this together.