How do you best communicate during a crisis? This question is top of mind for many communications professionals across the globe as they very quickly learn what works well, and what might not, during the COVID-19 pandemic. We heard from four leading communicators from various markets during our webinar "Effective Communications During A Crisis" on what had been working for them, and the approach they would advise when navigating a crisis. The speakers included:
- Taimor T Hazou, Former Head of Public and Government Affairs at Dow Australia & New Zealand
- Mona Patel, Group Head of External Communications at Royal London
- Eike Alexander Kraft, Global Head of Marketing & Communications at Roland Berger
- Alex Malouf, Corporate Communications Director MEA at Schneider Electric
Here are our five key takeaways from the session:
1. Invest in relationships: A crisis highlights who you have strong relationships with
Alex Malouf stated that in times of a crisis “You find out not only who the formal leaders are, but who the informal leaders are - the individuals that people will listen to and follow.” For marcomms leaders a crisis highlights who you have built key relationships with internally and who you need to strengthen your relationships with. “Relationship building is key. You’ve got to spend time on calls getting to know people” said Alex Malouf. Being in an office provides the benefit of being able to go for a brief face-to-face meeting or a quick coffee catch-up, so without this option, marcomms leaders need to take the time to invest in relationships internally and externally.
For your external stakeholders e.g. clients, supply chain, customers, if you have spent the time investing in these relationships this will show in your communications and processes, as well as business reputation and performance.
2. The senior leadership team MUST be engaged with the communications function
As all marcomms experts know, crisis planning is fundamental and invaluable when responding to a crisis both internally and externally. Part of the planning process must involve senior leadership. During a crisis, employees look to business leaders to provide guidance, and business leaders need to give internal communications the same level of dedication as external communications. Business leaders need to be available to their staff in the same way they’re available to the press.
Mona Patel put it simply: “Senior leadership have to get involved. They must get engaged. They send the instructions through the organisations.” If your senior leadership is currently not involved with communications then educate them as to why they should be, and which channels are the most appropriate. The expectations of both internal and external stakeholders are higher than ever - people want answers quickly from leadership and direct to them i.e. video’s featuring business leaders posted on social media. Not responding to a crisis is bad, and a late response can yield unnecessary questions, so business leaders need to be involved in the communications process so that they know what to say and when. Marcomms teams need to adapt to digital platforms for communicating and upskilling business leaders.
3. Communication needs to be authentic to your business and relevant to your audience:
When responding to a crisis all messages should come from business leaders and this is where a good communications function can show their worth by working collaboratively with leaders in presenting an authentic message. To present an authentic message, teams need to:
Keep abreast of what government, customers and competitors are saying
Think about what they are doing and why they are doing it
Monitor your communications/responses and report to senior leadership teams
Be available to work outside of work hours to make sure they’re on top of all communications
A major lesson learned from the COVID-19 crisis is that localised messaging is key! Decentralise your communications as not every audience will require the same messaging. Taimor Hazou felt strongly about this, stating that “COVID-19 had accelerated the trend of de-centralisation of communications and the reason is that if you have a centralised management team, your team to manage the COVID-19 crisis has to be localised as you’re moving to your governments alert levels. It can’t be a global response. If you force a global response it would be a disaster.”
4. Working in the future: moving the function forward
It’s fair to say that few people would have predicated that at one moment in time almost all office workers across the globe would be working from home. Whilst this has presented some issues, there has been a raft of benefits and one could even argue that this change has helped to bring forward the ongoing notion of “the future of work.” The panel agreed on several ways that a communications team can develop their staff:
Be direct and transparent with your interactions
Have a regional approach to marketing and communications
Promote change: try new systems, technology, processes
Hire people who can cover a variety of specialisms within marketing and communications and not just specialists. Budgets may be tight so hire for competence. You want to remove silo mindsets.
5. Align internal messaging with external messaging. Communications doesn’t just have to be the responsibility of one team. Make your employees advocates with the correct messaging
Arm your employees with the right messaging so that they can understand a company’s response and answer in the correct way without having to ask for approval.
Don’t overwhelm employees with messaging. Some will naturally want more but give employees enough and more if needed. Remind people of the messaging and where they can find it rather than sending content all the time.
You can catch the full webinar below and find answers to the audience Q&A on our Carter Murray LinkedIn page.