For those who maintain their voice and are genuinely helpful in times of crisis, there is great opportunity to establish a leadership position and earn brand recognition and loyalty.
Corporate communications in times of crisis or uncertainty is a delicate balance. When the normal parameters of daily life and business change, how do companies maintain their voice and leadership within their own industry and greater business circles? Sensitivity to the situation and areas where constituents may be struggling is paramount, yet a time of crisis or uncertainty is not a time to go completely silent.
Properly managed, times of crisis can provide opportunities for individuals and organizations to maintain their position of authority and build trust. Audiences look for strong voices and leadership to help them navigate through chaotic situations. As a result, corporate leaders should maintain their presence and use their platforms to help educate, inform, and serve their constituents and the general public.
The tricky balance is using communications in a way that is genuine and doesn’t look or feel like the organization is trying to capitalize on the crisis situation. Here are a few of our tips for communications strategy in times of crisis.
What are pressure points for your audience and the general public at this particular time? Where are people struggling? Why are they struggling? What do they need? Adjust communications and services to meet the needs of the community where possible.
Sometimes the needs and response will be obvious. For example, if you provide mental health services, and your community is in distress due to the crisis situation, then your services and expertise will certainly be needed. Sometimes it is less obvious. If you are a gym and folks can no longer come in to take fitness classes, perhaps you loan out your equipment and provide online classes. Not only are you still finding ways to connect with your community, but you have created a feel-good storytelling opportunity in your generosity and outreach to your clients.
In times of crisis, all standard communications language from your organization may become irrelevant. And messaging that you put forth this week may not apply next week. Be ready to adjust communications on social media, newsletters, websites, and other platforms on the fly. Expect that you will need to continue to make adjustments throughout the duration of the crisis situation.
Maintain your voice.
Crisis situations are not a time to cancel all PR and communications efforts. Rather, it is a time to adjust the message and find new, relevant platforms for your brand and corporate leadership. Sensitivity to the struggles and needs of your community are paramount, so how can you share your knowledge and ideas in a way that supports and helps those around you? Community support initiatives, employee support initiatives, and sharing your expertise in a way that supports the community is a great way to maintain your communications presence in an authentic and caring manner. Can you share your perspective in an op-ed piece to the community newspaper? Can you adjust your newsletter content from a sales focus to providing relevant resources and information to the crisis? Can you pitch your CEO as an expert to discuss certain issues that are resulting from the crisis or circumstances that will contribute to the crisis’ resolution?
Connect with the community.
In times of crisis, we all adapt and find new ways to connect. For example, during the COVID-19 crisis, we’ve all found common ground in the new prominence of Zoom meetings in our life (sweatpants on the bottom, business on the top!), looking forward to the 8 p.m. “Howl,” and a collective fascination with Tiger King on Netflix. Can your organization mix these small moments of fun into your communications strategy? Finding ways to connect to your audience doesn’t always have to be formal. If, as a brand or organization, you can make someone smile during a crisis, you’re doing something right! And chances are, you’ve captured their interest and loyalty.
During times of crisis, many organizations pull back on traditional advertising, marketing, and communications efforts. When budgets get tight, these efforts are almost always the first to go. But imagine if all your competitors stopped their PR efforts and your organization was the only remaining voice in the ring? For those who maintain their voice and are genuinely helpful, there is great opportunity to establish a leadership position and earn brand recognition and loyalty. And then, once the crisis has passed and normalcy returns, you’ll be in the top spot to hit the ground running.
Rhiannon Hendrickson is the founder and CEO of Orapin Marketing + Public Relations, which helps purpose-driven businesses increase awareness and attract clients and partners. She has worked with organizations of all sizes across myriad sectors to develop memorable and effective communications programs that generate awareness, engagement, and, ultimately, support for those that are making a meaningful impact.