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A Front Row Seat to My First Comms Crisis

Coronavirus Crisis Communications

I learnt about crisis management and crisis communications at university, but never had to actually use what I had learnt. Unless I was applying for a job in a crisis management position, I would hope that I wouldn’t have to use them.

When I think about crisis communications, I think of brands that have said the wrong thing, or misjudged an advert (think the Kendall Jenner Pepsi advert or the time Adidas sent an email of congratulations to Boston marathon runners, praising them for surviving), or an influencer that has spoke ill of them, or an influx of negative reviews that need to be dealt with. I don’t imagine a worldwide pandemic.

There’s no avoiding the word ‘Coronavirus’ today. Companies can’t ignore it, and they must handle it in a suitable manner. But how does one communicate a worldwide pandemic? And how can a company make 100’s of lay-offs sound good?

If anything, in years to come we will look back at this time and we’ll study the brands that communicated well, and the ones that didn’t. We’ll be able to see what worked, what consumers appreciated and what they very much didn’t. It’s a learning curve for all of us, as not many people have been through such a crisis before.

I always say that every day I am a student, and I like to learn about everything and anything. Having a front row seat to crisis comms in action all over the world is going to be a huge learning opportunity for me and everyone else in the communications industry. Time will only tell how all of this will play out in the long run.

IS THIS A CRISIS?

Is this a natural disaster? A crisis? A pandemic? However you want to define it, it’s uncharted territory for all of us. Not only will your crisis communications and your corporate communications be pivotal in this time, but more than ever, your internal communications is going to be just as, if not more, crucial.

I think I receive an email once a week from my company, giving updates, giving reassurance and giving the real facts. For me, that’s quite enough. The date that we will be let back into the office building gets pushed back every two weeks and it’s now set to the 4th of May. Another date that will eventually be pushed back too.

At the beginning, we were told when someone in the building had tested positive. Now, we don’t hear anything about that because I’m sure the number would cause too much concern among employees.

At a time like this, companies need to keep morale as high as they can, make sure they are communicating with their employees and not pretending that we are not in the middle of a world crisis.

THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY

I’ve already seen my fair share of case studies on what not to do in a crisis such as this. Sports Direct, Wetherspoons, and I Saw it First are just three of those companies that failed to use their judgement on what should be a time of concern, solidarity and focus on wellness.

I posted more on this subject when I discussed the brands that were making the best of a bad situation – those like Pret, Starbucks and Italian fashion brands – and those that weren’t doing so well, like the ones mentioned in the paragraph above.

The consequences for getting communications wrong at this time could prove fatal for some businesses. I suspect both Wetherspoons and Sports Direct will lose a lot of custom once this pandemic is over, with customers choosing to buy from companies that have better morals and treat their staff with care.

Just one wrong statement from a company CEO, a misguided advert, or even a badly worded tweet can all cause serious damage for a company. And more so during these times when people are more eagle-eyed on social media and tuned into what’s going on in the world.

WHEN WILL IT END?

I don’t know about you, but my email inbox has never been as busy as it is today. It seems every company that has my email address on its database has emailed me to ‘stay safe’ and let me know how they’re handling the Coronavirus.

From a gym that I quit when I left London in 2018 to an Australian clothing site that I purchased a dress from when I was 18, I do not need this much communication about the Coronavirus.

I know that for businesses, it’s something that they feel they must do, since people would take note if a company didn’t say anything. But there’s only so many times I can read the same email, saying the same thing.

I’m sure the Calvin Klein outlet store in Las Vegas is really concerned with my wellbeing, or Subway that I haven’t visited in over a year. Companies need to make it personal.

Why not look at who’s been your top-spenders and send them an email thanking them for their business and reassuring them that you’ll be back soon? Or an email to consumers that bought once and never again, and reach out to ask how they are, even though they know it’s been a while since they heard from you?

Is that too much hard work? Probably. But worth it? I would think so.

EMPATHY IS EVERYTHING

I’m not going to pretend like I’m the most empathetic person in the world, but when it comes to hearing from the leaders in business and the leaders that I work for, empathy goes a long way.

A lot of people have lost their jobs recently and I’ve heard students have also lost placement positions. A ‘No Reply’ email is not going to cut it. A straight-to-the-point blunt message is not going to work.

These are real people, with real bills and real ambition that are being cut down. We all have hopes for the future, and when that future is pulled from under us out of the blue, we need to be shown compassion.

It’s a difficult time emotionally, mentally and physically. We’re stuck indoors, getting very minimal exercise and fresh air. Every day looks the same. When it already seems like there is no light at the end of the tunnel, communicators need to do their best and communicate.

THE NEW KEY WORKERS

It’s crazy how perceptions can change in only a small matter of time. Those that were labelled ‘low-skilled workers’ are the ones now leading the charge in a global pandemic.

Our NHS workers, our shopkeepers, our public transport workers and our postal workers are examples of those that are engaging with the public on a daily basis to keep us going. They are a necessity but have never been treated as such.

Having now shown their value to the world, and shown us the value of the NHS, they must be invested in. They must be paid for their hard work and must be recognised as the true heroes of our communities.

They should reinstate the healthcare courses and university degrees free of charge and wipe all healthcare workers student debts. Wages should be increased for all of those out on the frontlines putting themselves and their families most at risk.

The class-system is outdated and this virus has shown us that no matter what age, how much money you have or how much power you have, you are susceptible to ill-health. The virus doesn’t discriminate.

Is it time we leveled the playing field of the worldwide economy once this is all over?

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