How business leaders should manage long-term Covid era comms
Covid-19 has highlighted the importance of crisis comms for any organisation. Chris Calland, Director at PR and communications specialist Sapience Communications, discusses some smart approaches to safeguarding your company’s reputation and communicating effectively with key stakeholders.
Renewed lockdown measures across the UK serve as a reminder that companies will not return to business as usual any time soon. Rather, business leaders should remain ready to respond to the long-term challenges of the pandemic with an effective crisis communications strategy.
As the Covid-19 crisis rumbles on, it is vital to maintain contact with stakeholders and staff, especially those who could be either helpful supporters or vocal critics of your changes. With these groups, communicating too much is better than communicating too little, as any silence or vagueness will inevitably give way to avoidable unease. Staff feedback channels are particularly useful tools, providing helpful early warning signals of dips in workers’ wellbeing, allowing you to anticipate concerns and respond proactively. That said, while it is important to provide reassurance where possible, it’s also best to avoid sugar-coating your message to the point that it risks causing confusion or being misleading.
Moreover, it is crucial to remember that allies can be invaluable assets, and very few businesses operate in isolation. With that in mind, it may be worth considering how you might prepare coordinated action with industry peers, such as a joint statement or petition to government, in response to an issue which affects your sector as a whole. In addition, sharing ideas will facilitate relationship-building, which could prove useful for post-pandemic growth.
You also need to be able to call on your senior team in times of crisis, so it is vital that they are fully acquainted with any planned announcements and have visible responsibility for helping the business through this tough period, including updating your most important stakeholders. Whatever you do, ensure that you include the main person responsible for your external communications as soon as key decisions have been made. This enables them to offer insight on how decisions will be perceived, shape the agreed message, and ensure that the right messaging is conveyed.
Finally, it is worth thinking about the questions you will ask yourself in several months’ time. Did we assess the likely outcomes accurately? Did we communicate well with our audiences? Did they respond as expected? Did our business demonstrate the values we hoped it would? Ensure that you will be comfortable with your decisions further down the line, remember to analyse your response honestly once the crisis has passed, and be prepared to change your approach to improve your engagement in future.
Vaccine rollouts may have buoyed optimism for an end to the pandemic in 2021, but it is important to remain focused on the impact that Covid-19 continues to have on businesses. Tailoring communications to safeguard the reputation of your organisation should therefore remain a priority. A global pandemic is a robust test for companies’ crisis communications, but the prospect of an eventual emergence from the uncertainty should prompt optimism as well as opportunity.