Communicating in a Crisis: Corona
Written by Lee Saunders, head of content at Nishlis Legal Marketing.
The coronavirus pandemic has become a nauseating headache of worrying proportions with no end yet in sight. The questions are endless and the answers evolving. As a business, how do you communicate stability, clarity, and certainty in such times? In fast-moving and uncertain situations, many leaders face questions they may not even have answers to.
You need to communicate early and often with your key stakeholders throughout a crisis. Even if you’re still trying to understand the extent of the problem, be honest and open to maintain credibility. Approach the situation with empathy. Put yourself in your clients’ shoes to understand their anxiety. You will sometimes get it right, and you may get it wrong, but it is still better to be transparent.
1: Create a Team for Centralized Communication
In an emergency or fast-moving situation, you need a crisis-response team. With the coronavirus, we are seeing this happening at all levels: Corporates are building teams. Intel, for example, has a pandemic leadership team in place, as part of its business continuity planning.
Ideally these teams should be small. Include a member of the leadership team, someone from marketing or communications, an HR executive. This team should:
- Meet regularly to monitor the situation closely as it continues to evolve. In the case of this virus, when most people are working from home, use video conferencing/Zoom/your in-house software to do so.
- Be the main source of information about the crisis.
- Give regular updates to clients.
- Be as transparent as possible. Explain what you know, what you don’t know, and your sources of information.
- Be succinct. Long messages written in legalese will not be read or easily understood.
Step 2: Communicate with Employees
Employees are your most important asset and act as ambassadors for your brand. If they aren’t informed and don’t understand what is going on, communications outside of the organization will be more difficult. The company needs to demystify the situation for employees, put everyone’s mind at ease, and provide hope for the future.
To communicate with employees, organizations should:
- Post information regularly in a highly visible location. This can be via the company’s intranet/website/email or a Facebook channel.
- Describe how decisions were made about issues such as travel and working from home.
- Communicate no less than every other day.
Step 3: Communicate Regularly with Customers
Clients require a different approach than employees. You should:
- Focus on what is important to the client. Availability.
- Focus on empathy rather than trying to create selling opportunities. Companies should rethink advertising and promotion strategies to be more in line with the current zeitgeist.
- With your updates – put readers first. Nobody cares about you, especially in a crisis. So start everything you write by addressing the client or potential client: ‘you’ and ‘your’, not ‘I’, ‘we’ or ‘our’.
- Speak from the heart. Write something original, and it’ll sound more human. Be empathetic. Avoid just saying: “We understand how you’re feeling at this difficult time.” Acknowledge the actual pain people are feeling, and describe how what you offer will alleviate it.
- Be calm. I know this is hard with all our livelihoods under threat, but the more clarity you give when writing about stuff, the less panicky it will sound, and the more engaging and appealing whatever you’re offering will be.
Step 4: Be Proactive with Communities Around You
What happens within organizations around the coronavirus affects everyone in the communities around them. Law firms should try to do what they can to ensure they help where possible and keep track of their efforts. You can also think about a crisis as a time to enhance relationships with the local communities in which you operate by:
- Providing resources such as cleaning supplies or food for those in quarantine.
- Providing information to the local media to help to calm the communities down and while also enhancing your organization’s credibility.
When dealing with uncertainty, leaders need to look at communication from the perspective of your audience and have empathy for them rather than fear of doing the wrong thing. This requires companies to communicate when they don’t have all of the information, to reveal as much as they can about sensitive information, and promise to keep them informed.