By Mark Forbes
Director of Reputation, Icon Agency
The scope and speed of Coronavirus-related impacts are staggering, requiring dramatic business adaption and presenting an existential threat to many organisations.
Changes to our ways of life and business will continue to escalate as the virus spreads, and attempts to contain it accelerate.
Surviving in a quarantine economy means adapting to these challenges: protecting the health of staff and customers; new ways of operating, from digital communications to remote working; preserving cash flow and containing costs; and for some, cuts and shutdowns.
Business will be expected to demonstrate leadership. That means having a plan, implementing it and effectively communicating it.
To achieve change it must be understood. Staff, customers and stakeholders need to be engaged. How any business communicates through this crisis will have a critical impact on operations, reputation, capacity to survive and eventually thrive.
Recession is inevitable, but recovery will also come. Businesses need to remain standing in six or 12 months time and be positioned for the bounce back. Much of that rests on considered, strategic decisions, communicated clearly and effectively.
At Icon, we provide high-level corporate counsel, strategic advice and operational assistance to business, government agencies and not for profits. We see fundamental and permanent changes to structures and practices from the Coronavirus pandemic.
Some of these changes will likely be positive, with an increased emphasis on e-commerce, expansions of digital marketplaces, enhanced capacity to engage and consult remotely, new flexible ways of working, and more user-friendly websites with services moving online.
They will require changes in capability, structures and practices. As this crisis unfolds, we will return in detail to the implications of these changes and how you can address them.
For now, it’s important to focus on the core challenge of communicating the changes your business must make in the face of Coronavirus. Messaging should be considered and clear – delivered effectively and consistently to key audiences.
Some fundamental principles of crisis communications apply:
Command and control. Put a crisis plan and team in place with capacity and authority to implement. Ensure your communications team is resourced to lead.
Establish clarity. To make the right decisions you need accurate information. Use this knowledge to inform your key messaging. Be clear, transparent and unequivocal.
Communicate quickly and clearly. Get in front of your story with your own messaging. It must be timely and accurate. Be proactive, and if you don’t know, say so. Make sure your messaging is concise and consistent.
Know your audiences. Think of staff, customers, suppliers, stakeholders, authorities, and investors. Messages should be tailored to the needs of each audience. Consider the best communications channels to reach them.
Rethink your messaging and marketing. Be wary of incongruous messaging and inappropriate tone in messages developed before the crisis. Consider halting advertising campaigns unless they drive tangible business results (and even then don’t be tone deaf).
Think digital. Digital will provide your primary communication channels. And don’t ignore engagement. Ensure your social channels are monitored and queries answered, and ensure your social listening tools are on.
Don’t forget the media. Mainstream media remains the most trusted and agenda-setting news source. Utilise media relationships to project your messages and respond to information requests.
Plan for recovery. Develop a post-crisis recovery plan. Consider opportunities for ‘wins’ with positive initiatives or announcements.
Icon Reputation can assist with all these steps, providing strategic counsel and hands-on help with message development, media relations, stakeholder liaison, digital expertise and media training.