How to Prepare Crisis Communication for the Coronavirus

Mar 26, 2020 | Branding Strategies

We all know that every business should have a plan for what to do in case of an emergency. And yet, something as devastating as COVID-19 seems impossible to predict.

If I’m being honest, I’m feeling anxious these days. Blame human nature, but planning ahead for a crisis is often left until there is no time to plan. And then a chaotic response may actually make matters worse rather than better.

That’s the situation many companies find themselves in with the outbreak of the coronavirus.

Most companies have been pushed into thinking about changes they need to make immediately to ensure the health and safety of their employees and customers. And with confirmed cases growing by the day this has led to hard questions:

  • What role should leaders do in the development of a response?
  • What are the most critical actions to take now?

Given the seriousness of the current situation, Jeremy and I quickly shifted Sticky Branding’s services. The surge of client demand forced us to step back and realize the world needs our expertise more than ever. Within days we adjusted our entire approach to create a new category of strategy, Crisis Marketing.

We are working with companies of all sizes to change their business strategies to secure new sources of revenue and clients.

In a crisis, speed is everything. Here are some action-steps I think us marketers should consider taking for the situation we face today:

Create a Crisis Team

Except in very large companies or those with specific types of risks, most companies do not have a dedicated crisis response team. And many have never created even a bare-bones crisis communications plan.

Now is the time to do so. Bring together leaders from across your organization to begin identifying and prioritizing issues, with all major functions and regions represented. Each individual should have a clear understanding of his or her specific responsibilities.

Prioritize Issues of Greatest Urgency

Ensuring the safety of employees, customers, and other stakeholders is obviously the priority, and external guidance from public health experts will be important to understand what these issues are.

There will be immediate decisions that need to be made about in-person activities:

  • Should we carry on with our planned events schedule?
  • What about internal meetings?

Longer-term impacts should also be considered:

  • How will we enable collaboration between remote teams?
  • Can we host virtual events and meetings?

Prepare Your Communications Engine

Providing transparent and ongoing communication is the hallmark of good crisis communications. The marketing team needs to analyze the types of communication that will be needed to support a variety of scenarios.

One of the most challenging aspects of crisis management is the need to create a wide range of critical content, have it vetted by legal or management, and pushed out through channels as quickly as possible. Create templates for common types of content and stub content that can be built out as needed.

Build Communications Strategies Around Your Stakeholders

Companies that have taken the effort to gather audience insights will have a head start. For broader crisis situations, there are almost always additional stakeholders to consider such as employees and their families, investors and communities, or regions that may fall outside of your normal marketing focus.

With each stakeholder group ask targeted questions:

  • What is the most important information for the specific stakeholder in question?
  • What is their emotional context?
  • What is the objective of the communication?
  • How should we best deliver it?

Listen, Track, and Measure Stakeholder Response

Monitor your external communication to understand how the stakeholder groups are reacting to the crisis and your brand’s response to it.

Again, the impact will be different across different types of businesses. Understanding what’s been said can be the key to containing a negative situation or understanding when the crisis is winding down and business can return to normal.

When you respond to a crisis with transparency and compassion you will be rewarded by customers, employees and stakeholders looking to you as a guiding light.

Companies that fail to rise to the occasion or are late to respond may create uncertainty or damage the confidence they have built. Use the pandemic as an opportunity to flesh out a more complete crisis response plan so that the next time (hopefully we never go through anything like this again) the unexpected comes along, you will be ready.

If you’d like to chat about how we can help you rapidly adjust your strategy to find the right customers and move forward please book a time here. Or see how we can help with Sticky Branding’s Crisis Marketing services — Marketing Group and Consulting Services.

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Jeremy Miller

Top 30 Brand Guru

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