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Back to Communications Basics: Best Practices for Communicating during COVID-19 and the Re-Opening

Due to the unprecedented communications environment we find ourselves in right now, our agency has been actively seeking out and collecting the best practices on communicating during COVID-19 and the re-opening of the economy. Even though our collective experience includes communicating during the 2008/09 recession, the Ebola crisis in 2014, as well as many other issues and crises, the quickly changing nature and far reaching implications of this pandemic is new territory for all of us. We’ve sat-in on countless webinars and read endless articles on communicating during COVID-19 in order to ensure we’re providing the absolute most up-to-date and best counsel to our clients and employing them ourselves. After compiling all the best practices, we noticed similar themes emerge and many of them are grounded in the timeless and core principals of good communications such as consistency and clarity of messages. Here are the top six best practices that continue to come out again and again:

1. Be human: Even when people are dealing with brands, they want to know that there are humans behind them. It’s time for all organizations to show real empathy and leadership. Not every communication has to be serious, there can be moments of levity and humour, but all messages should be gut-checked for an empathetic and consistency of tone. Of course, what you do matters more than what you say, and employees and customers will be quick to call-out any hypocrisy.

2. Be present: Consistency and availability are incredibly important. While it may be tempting to run and hide under the covers until things normalize; employees, customers, and other stakeholders need to hear from you regularly with clear and calm messaging.Don’t worry about over-communicating. Right now, more is better.

3. Take care of your community: Whether this is customers, employees, investors, suppliers, or charities, it’s more important than everto support your community. While global in nature, for many, this crisis is a very local one. Interest in local news is soaring. People are worried about their neighbours and the small businesses they frequent. It’s also not the time to be competitive. True organizational leaders are working with competitors to help their industry and society.

4. Employ situational awareness: Use social listening tools, customer and employee surveys, pulse checks, and seek feedback to ensure you’re communicating with the right cadence, tone, and empathy. Throw away your social media content calendar and scheduled announcements. Emotions can change very quickly, with every new government or health announcement. Adapt your communications accordingly.

5. Be helpful: Focus less on garnering attention and more on providing helpful information, products, and services. Many companies are shifting advertising dollars to donations or providing helpful products and services for free or at a discount. Normal metrics of sales, donations, stock price or media hits are likely not be very useful and for most organizations these will likely be lower. Reputation management and brand trust are much more important metrics to measure at the moment.

6. Start preparing now for the new equilibrium: As we start to enter a new phase of the pandemic, things could happen quickly and with lots of stops and starts. Messaging will need to be continuously adapted. The new normal will likely be quite different than before the pandemic, and organizations should try to understand what customers and employees’ new expectations will be.  Also, big trade shows or events will likely still not be back to normal for a while. If these types of events are important for your fundraising, sales, networking or promotions, start thinking about how to re-imagine these events for the interim.

These tips have become our guiding principles for how we communicate and we’ve employed them both among our team and with our clients. In this ever-changing landscape, coming back to the communications basics can be incredibly comforting.

Kylie McMullan is the principal of Finch Media and is a communications strategy expert who has worked on a number of issues and recalls across a number of industries including healthcare and consumer packaging goods.

Julia Smith is the Managing Director at Finch Media, an internal communications expert with extensive crisis work, including work around the Ebola crisis in 2014.