TDG Blog

Brands In Crisis: When, Where, and How to Communicate During COVID-19

By March 29, 2020No Comments

Lindsey Campbell, The DeBerry GroupEstablishing sure footing during a crisis can be tough for any business. Communicating this during an elevated crisis like COVID-19 with a level head and assurance to your customers and the general public can be an even bigger battle. With many years of deep breaths and crisis management experience under our belts, The DeBerry Group can empathize, and better yet, share guidance with you in this time of need. As our Public Relations Manager, Lindsey Campbell helps our clients with strategizing, planning media relations and crisis communications. Below she shares some recent strategies that we have executed for our clients on when, where and how to communicate to the public during the COVID-19 situation.

WHEN TO COMMUNICATE

  • New Developments/Changes. Constantly be up-to-speed and aware of the current situation so that anytime there are new developments or changes that impact your day-to-day operations or significant changes to the customer experience, you will be ready to pass along that information.
  • In Response to Customer Feedback. A good barometer for when your audience needs an update is the volume of calls, questions, and feedback you are receiving. If you see an uptick in customer questions and concerns, then it makes sense to draft a communication to address these concerns.
  • Maintain or Establish a Regular Cadence. It’s perfectly fine to maintain your brand’s usual communication cadence. It’s who you are. Just be sensitive that the content and communication does not come across as tone-deaf to the current situation. If there is currently not a brand cadence with which you communicate with your customers, this might be an opportunity to develop one.

WHERE TO COMMUNICATE

  • Maximize Owned Channels. Inboxes have been inundated with emails from brands regarding COVID-19, so it is important to consider the various communication channels that your brand or organization has to reach customers. Owned channels are any communications avenues that your organization has complete control over – these include your website, social media channels, email outreach, etc. While you want to proactively communicate to your audience, not everyone consumes information in the same way and with the same depth. This creates an opportunity to maximize your owned channels ensuring information is available to customers in a variety of ways – keeping it fresh and providing the news they want without having to rely exclusively on email communication.
  • Develop a COVID-19 Information Center. Many organizations are developing COVID-19 specific landing pages. This is a good way to provide a volume of information to engaged customers without having to send lengthy emails to your entire audience.
    • It puts the customer in control – the information is there for them to access at their convenience.
    • A landing page also allows for your email communications to be more succinct and easily digestible while linking out to the page with more in-depth information.
    • Be sure to keep in mind what your audience(s) are actively seeking. There is no need to recreate the wheel with exhaustive information that is not relevant. Choose the most appropriate information to address your customers’ concerns.
  • Frequently Asked Questions. Developing FAQs for your website serves as another great way to help customers find the information they need without having them feel like they have to sift through a lot of information that they don’t.
  • Social Media. Always consider adopting the information you are sharing for social media. When inboxes are inundated, it is important to publish content on a variety of channels to maximize touchpoints and engagement.

HOW TO COMMUNICATE

  • Actionable Messaging Around COVID-19. Any communications you are putting out surrounding the COVID-19 situation should feel actionable.
    • Focus on what your organization is doing to respond to the situation.
    • How your day-to-day operations may be impacted.
    • And most importantly how you are adapting to ensure customers are able to access the services they need.
  • Develop Content for an Increasingly Engaged Audience. With cities and counties across the U.S. issuing shelter-in-place orders, people are spending more time at home and more time online consuming and engaging with content. This creates a huge opportunity for brands to create new content or tailor existing content to reach a broader audience.
    • Keep it Strategic and Authentic. When creating or tailoring content, especially in this uncertain and rapidly-changing environment, it is most important to ensure it reflects your brand and builds upon your existing marketing strategy. This is a time to reach a broader audience with content that speaks to your brand, with the goal of ultimately building awareness and advocacy once this situation resolves.
    • Cut Through the Noise with Helpfulness and Positivity. The physical, emotional and financial impacts of the COVID-19 situation are causing widespread stress and uncertainty. Content that counters these negative effects, like uplifting human interest stories, helpful hints, and tips, learning opportunities or creative ways to pass time, positions your brand as a leader in the “rising tides lift all boats” attitude that stands out from fear and uncertainty.
    • Should it be Video? Video is one of the most engaging types of content – according to Cisco’s Annual Internet Report 80 percent of all internet traffic will be video this year – but it is important to consider whether video makes sense for your organization and the message you are trying to convey. From a crisis communications perspective, the decision of whether or not to utilize video should rely almost exclusively on your spokesperson – consider the following:
      • Is my spokesperson comfortable on camera?
      • Is my spokesperson capable of delivering a message without reading directly from a script and in a way that feels natural?

If the answer to both of these questions is yes, it may be worth a shot. It is especially important to remember that many of us are in the same situation – working from home and making due with the tools that are available to us – so it’s okay if the production quality is not what you are used to. Your audience will be more tuned into the message than whether or not the video was shot using your phone.

Crisis is something you never hope for, but it is definitely (and now obviously) a necessary tool to have ready to go when needed. Intentional and proactive ways in communicating with your audience goes a long way in deepening and cementing the connection with your customers in this time of need. In the coming weeks, we will continue to share ideas and tips in the hopes to truly be in this together with our community.

Examples In Action:

Northeast Independent School District launched counselor support hotlines reaching students and their families by adapting their existing counseling resources to a remote environment.

UT Health San Antonio President delivered an early example of impactful video messaging.

Brooks addressed the needs of its surrounding neighborhoods by sending a hard copy letter with information and phone numbers for area resources – ensuring those without internet access remained informed.

In Texas Monthly’s “Inside Story of How H-E-B Planned for the Pandemic” article, Director of Governmental and Public Affairs Dya Campos summarizes the retailer’s communications approach:
“Dya Campos: One thing we learned from Hurricane Harvey is that our customers want to hear from us. They want to hear our perspective, they want to know what we’re doing, what we’re thinking, how we’re helping our communities.”