Four mistakes to avoid in times of crisis.
It was a privilege to be interviewed by Charity Freeman for WPTA’s INsight program on April 24, 2020. While I’ve encouraged and coached a number of clients and friends to appear on this program, it was my first time to be interviewed.
Charity asked me to talk about do’s and don’ts of crisis communication — especially during the coronavirus global pandemic.
When confronted by a major business disruption, it’s easy to panic. The first step is to breathe deeply, think clearly, and plan your communication.
What to Do
Stay focused. Keep your head.
Be ready for recovery.
Invest in digital tools (web, social media).
What Not To Do
Don’t go dark.
Keep in touch with customers.
Don’t exaggerate your role.
Focus on others.
Don’t make light of tragedy.
Be cautious with humor.
Don’t go it alone.
Learn from others.
At the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, we created a 10-minute origami exercise to help businesses step back and think. We wanted to encourage our clients to remain calm and plan strategically.
It’s important to create some space to think calmly about next steps. At the beginning of the COVID-19 shutdown, we invited people to relax and learn how to make a little paper horse. While doing that, our video prompted them to consider a series of questions about marketing and public relations. While their hands worked, their minds could mull over next steps for business communication.
Communication goes off the rails whenever there’s a failure to plan. Create a concise message map based on core values. The best message maps are simple — just three memorable sentences, each supported by two or three key facts. As events unfold, stick to these core messages.
And don’t forget to plan communication for the recovery period after an immediate crisis stabilizes. For example, at the time of this writing, we are several weeks into the COVID-19 economic shutdown. This is the the perfect time to make plans for what comes next. When the shutdown lifts, many customers and prospects will be eager to get back to work and resume their normal lives. Be ready to ride that wave. Plan effective marketing now.
It’s an opportune moment to make strategic improvements to websites and social media. Virtually all of our clients are doing this. Fort Wayne Marketing currently has seven client websites undergoing major redevelopment. Some of these sites have been neglected for years, but clients understand that now is time to take action.
Don’t Go Dark.
It’s important to communicate continually with customers and constituents. These are very uncertain times, and your customers need to hear from you. They need to know how and when to access the products and services they count on. They need to know you are taking steps to protect public health and safety. In short, they need to be reassured that we are #inthistogether.
It’s important to be positive, reassuring, and forward-looking, but don’t over-blow your own role or importance. Focus on others. Celebrate the real heroes.
It may be tempting to engage the news of the day and get in front of a big story like COVID-19. But for brands, newsjacking can be very dangerous. During the Boston Marathon bombing, for example, there was a company that used Twitter to commend the work of first responders, but in the same breath peddled their products. They used the #BostonStrong hashtag to promote scones and breakfast cereal. That was a really bad move. The nation was grieving serious injuries and loss of life. It was not a moment to sell scones.
Similarly, be very cautious with humor. When Carrie Fisher passed away, a baking goods company published an image with her signature Princess Leia hair-do replaced with cinnamon buns. The message was something like, “Rest in peace, Princess. You’ll always have the best buns in the galaxy.” Needless to say, that didn’t go over well at all.
Some brands seem to be able to get away with jokes and making light of difficult situations, but it’s tricky business and often goes wrong. We encourage clients to stick to core messaging.
Don’t Go It Alone.
Learn from others. Even as businesses and lives have been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important to stay connected, leverage your network, and learn from one another.
Our company has benefited from the experts at The Northeast Indiana Innovation Center, and we in turn want to offer our expertise to others.
Want to talk about crisis communication?
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