The events of the past two weeks have wreaked havoc on even the most prepared of us. It has made obvious which companies had a ready crisis communications plan and which didn’t. The point is not to single anyone out, but to underscore the importance of thinking through your corporate response to anything, from consumer complaints to global pandemics. This provides us an opportunity to reflect upon our actions and be prepared to usher through the next phase of the virus, and beyond.
Here are a few things to think about as you look ahead to the next phase of the COVID-19 crisis response and recovery.
- Prioritize internal communications
There is no more important stakeholder during a crisis than your employees. They are your most effective spokespeople and can be the most damaging critics. They need to hear that their leaders have developed and are executing a plan that prioritizes their safety and well-being. Additionally, it’s important to remember that some of your employees are facing very difficult times navigating their own personal and family circumstances. So, communicate early and communicate often. Be authentic and compassionate and make internal communications a priority for your company.
- Face tough corporate decisions
Businesses will be faced with tough decisions to stay afloat and continue to be going concerns. From government assistance to employee lay-offs, suggested voluntary salary reductions, or seeking an orderly bankruptcy process; companies will be most resilient if they address these matters head-on, with honesty and integrity. Successful companies can no longer hide behind long, internal human resource memos announcing staffing changes. CEOs are putting their faces more prominently; taking ownership of these decisions and explaining their thought process with both employees and the public.
- Get ahead of the curve
Issues management isn’t just about managing existing issues. In fact, the most important part of reputational management is anticipating issues before they happen, and long before they can affect your corporate reputation. In a COVID-19 era, governments are moving quickly and making decisions faster than ever before. Businesses need to ensure they’re responding to these changing circumstances and taking proactive measures to be ahead of the curve. The risks of not taking proactive action can include negative brand perception, reduced employee morale, and loss of customer loyalty. Assessing current and potential vulnerabilities and incorporating strong issues management practices into your corporate communications is important to your overall business mandate.
- Lead with your values
There is no better time than during a crisis to communicate the values that have always driven your organization. Those values are the first thing to be tested in a crisis, so it is paramount that they are front and centre of all your communications and issues management plans. Your organization must demonstrate their compassion in the weeks and months to come. Demonstrating your values internally and externally will help to build your brand in times of crisis and prepare you for any scenario that may follow.
- Lean on the experts
A crisis is not the time to speculate about the correct measures, procedures or messaging. From how you roll out your short-term business planning, to how you communicate with employees, to how you adjust your social media content, it’s important to take strategic action to protect your reputation and lean on proven communications experts to guide you through these challenges.
The fallout from COVID-19 and the subsequent response from the private and public sector is an ultra-marathon, not a sprint. Those who succeed will leave a lasting, positive impression on their employees and customers. Proactive initiatives, including empathetic communications, are the keys that will bolster a brands reputation in challenging times.