This unprecedented crisis has affected everyone across the globe in some way and navigating it has been an ongoing challenge for businesses large and small. Needless to say, communications has played a key role for businesses, ensuring everyone is kept informed of the ever-changing advice and protocols. So, what have we learnt so far?
Brand reputation starts from within
There has been a rise in agencies being asked to provide internal communications support. Communication specialists have long known the importance of a good internal comms strategy, but not all companies have thought it is a good use of resource. Historically they would rather invest in an external communications campaign to reach external stakeholders. But this has changed, and many have realised that an effective communications campaign starts from the inside out. Employees will always remember how they were treated during this crisis, and when we come out the other side, brand reputation and the very culture of companies, will hinge on how they communicated with their employees during this time.
Long approval processes are becoming a thing of the past (for now)
Companies are having to react quicker and with more flexibility than ever before. The situation is constantly changing, and what may work for your communications strategy one week, won’t apply the next and you’ll need to change tact. This means that the long-winded approval process has had to change – no more passing a piece of communications through every team in the business. Companies and their leaders are having to put more trust in their communications teams to say the right thing at the right time.
More, more, more
Which leads us to this next point about acting quickly. Advice pre-COVID-19 regarding customer communications, particularly for email marketing, would have been to err on the side of ‘less is more’. Don’t bombard your customers with newsletters or they’ll soon hit unsubscribe. But during this crisis it has been important to keep everyone informed, as often as needed, and customers have been grateful for that. Tesco has been a great example of this (more on them later!)
Ah, keeping it ‘authentic’ – a phrase we know only too well! But like the term or not, it is more important than ever. Some brands have done it well, others have not. This is NOT the time for the hard sell or to capitalise on the crisis. Stay true to your purpose as a business and help out if you can. Customers do not want to see tenuous links where brands try to appear to help the most vulnerable, while really thinking of the bottom line. They want authentic and impactful action – and this needs to be reflected in brand communications.
Tesco has been a shining example of getting it right. It was the first supermarket to get a TV ad out about the changes they were making to keep staff and shoppers safe, and they send weekly updates from the CEO to customers keeping them updated on changes. They also unveiled a £30 million support package: £15 million worth of food donations would be made to food banks, a £1 million cash donation to the Trussell Trust and Fare Share, £2 million to the British Red Cross, plus £2 million from its Bags of Help community donation scheme for charities assisting “the most vulnerable” community members during the pandemic. As a result, they are also the most quoted supermarket in the media on how it is impacting the industry, and what they are doing to help.
Compassion is king
This pandemic is obviously impacting businesses and their finances all over the world (whether positively or negatively), but they should not forget the human impact and, ultimately, the cost of life. Companies that have got it right have been putting the health and safety of staff and customers first, not the bottom line. Those that have not got it right, have been prioritising profit.
Wetherspoons owner, Tim Martin, had to deny that the company was “abandoning” its 43,000 staff after insisting it could not afford to pay them during the Covid-19 crisis until the company was reimbursed their wages by the government. He faced criticism for playing down the risks of people gathering in pubs during the pandemic and insisted that the government was wrong to shut them down. He refused to pay staff until the Government’s furlough scheme was up and running and advised staff seek work in Tesco in the meantime. Ouch.
For more tips and advice on how to approach COVID-19 communications, visit our dedicated resources page.