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.
One of the positives of the pandemic is the rise in respect and gratitude for key workers, from nurses to refuse collectors, cleaners and supermarket workers to teachers, these people have not only had to continue life as normal, but also risk themselves and their families by putting themselves on the front line. Many businesses have responded to this by offering freebies and discounts, and supermarkets offered early access hours to allow key workers a quieter slot to shop in. Pret A Manger gave out free hot drinks to any NHS worker, and a further 50% discount on other items. Bloom and Wild have offered a 40% discount to front line workers, acknowledging that while flowers may not be a necessity, they certainly bring joy. They are also sending out 10 free bunches of flowers a week to randomly picked, nominated key workers. Gestures like this have bought a little bit of light to this otherwise dark time. Here’s a campaign from one of our very own clients. Glasses Direct wanted to find a way to do their bit in giving back to our incredible NHS. ADPR were over the moon to get involved with this campaign and it proved to be a great success for both the business and NHS staff. Check out more details of this campaign here.
Compassion is king
This pandemic is obviously impacting businesses and their finances all over the world (whether positively or negatively), but we 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 got it spectacularly wrong 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.
There is something to be learnt from both Tesco’s shining example and Wetherspoons’ disastrous response. Communications will differ depending on what your business offers, but it is so important to keep customers and clients informed. Keep them updated through emails and social media. Let them know how things may have changed, and the best ways to stay in touch. Saying nothing at all will not only lead to customers forgetting your business, at the time you probably need them the most, but this could also lead to confusion. For example, if business hours have changed, or a certain product or service is currently unavailable make this clear. Equally, if you have added something to your offering then shout about this too – be proud of your achievements and don’t let yourself be forgotten.
How can we help you?
For more tips and advice on how to approach COVID-19 communications, visit our dedicated resources page.
Communication is critical to your business success, but it needs a plan and strategy to be effective. If your business needs some help, see what we can offer you by checking out our affordable Confident Communication Planning Package.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking a crisis won’t happen to your business. You are just one click away from giving yourself long term peace of mind with our Crisis Management Success service. We promise it will be worth it!
The Department of Commerce states that 70% of smaller companies go out of business within just one year of experiencing a crisis – we think this is enough of a reason to be prepared! Our Crisis PR 101 guide will give you the tools you need to develop a crisis plan that will protect your business when a crisis strikes. As well as the guide you’ll get top tips from experts to give you more support in building a futureproof plan for your business.