As each day passes, it’s becoming ever-clearer that the current global health situation is unprecedented, in scope, scale and societal impact.
As a business, we were relatively quick to take the decision to implement our business continuity plans and effectively commence social distancing. That’s because I’m relatively risk averse and, moreover, the health of our team and the business as a whole was imperative to enable us to continue to serve our clients, even before considering the wider impact on society of taking unnecessary risks.
So, as we end our first full week of remote working and social distancing, I thought it’d be useful to share some thoughts that have come up in multiple conversations with clients this week regarding both crisis comms and finding a way to balance the needs for businesses to remain open and effective, whilst not being tone-deaf to what’s going on in the world.
At its core, effective crisis comms is about simplicity. The key is to consider what exactly needs to be said and to whom, before stripping away any superfluous clutter and then deciding whether to proactively broadcast that message or to respond reactively if and as required. That’s it.
Within that, brands often have numerous, sometimes conflicting messaging that they wish to convey to multiple audiences. My default is to view crisis comms as corporate comms, rather than relating to a specific product or service (unless that product or service is at the heart of the crisis, which is sometimes the case). And therefore, in thinking at a corporate level, it facilitates streamlined, business-wide thinking and helps to align the various components into a more cohesive direction.
It can be helpful to create a lead message and sub-messages, which further expand on or quantify the core message. But again, I’d typically advise that less is more, particularly if opting for proactive comms.
Of course this all pivots around a continual strategic reassessment of the contextual landscape surrounding the issue at hand and making the right judgement call about each aspect of the thinking. Particularly where situations are fluid and fast moving, there is a requirement to constantly reassess what is being said, balancing the needs of all relevant audiences, internally and externally, accordingly. And I have been involved in many situations through the course of my career where a situation swiftly pivots and there is a need to shift from reactive response into more proactive measures (and indeed vice versa). So, this too needs continual evaluation.
Most marketers can lay their hands on examples of brands which have either done a superb job of reading a situation and responded brilliantly – or, conversely, misread and acted in a way that they later come to regret. Ultimately, I think the key with the issue of managing appropriate tone of voice is to step outside your professional self and to consider the implications of a message on a more personal, more human level. For me, that’s typically the best indicator of whether a brand will come to be proud of their response and reaction, or not.
As a business, we’re in a very fortunate position, as most of what we do enables us to work remotely and thereby support our clients – and indeed as a result therefore our team despite all that’s happening around us. I’m well aware that is not the case for everyone right now.
And finally, just a word to the teams at brands such as Pret, amongst others, who have made the terrific decision to offer free drinks and discount on food for healthcare workers in the UK. It’s superb that you’re doing this and clear that it’s potentially going to come at no small cost, so thank you – and well played.