Authentic Communications: Rethinking What We Say During the Pandemic

The past few weeks have created quite a disruption, but far and away the question we’ve been asked the most is: “Should I still be sending regular communications out to my key stakeholders?”  

The answer is “yes,” but with a caveat. This means you absolutely can and should communicate with your various audiences, but what you say, how, when, and how often you say it must be considered through an entirely different lens than that of just a few weeks ago. This applies to internal audiences, who need an up-to-the-minute understanding of what’s expected of them, and external audiences, who can and should be reminded of your presence, actions, offerings, contribution, and encouraging thoughts 

During this time of uncertainty, you can’t afford to go dark with anyone who matters to your business, whether employeescustomers, investors, supporters, patients, or other stakeholders. Now, though, you must talk with them on a new timetable and in a much more direct, yet nuanced, voice 

Far and away, the best thing to do throughout is to ask yourself: How do I want people to communicate with me during this challenging time? One way to approach this is to think in terms of three areas: 1) Content 2) Context, and 3) Timing 

1.Content: Would you want to read it? 

A colleague mentioned how annoyed he was that so many companies were incorporating coronavirus messaging into their email marketing campaigns yet offered nothing helpful or relevant. The next time you consider sending an inappropriate email to a prospective or existing client, think twice 

The best litmus test for your CRM and other communiques is the mirror. Before you send something out, ask yourself if it would benefit you if you were on the receiving end. Would you find it helpful and relevant, or just a waste of your time? Is it authentic or does it smack of opportunism? Does it contain information so useful that you would actually want to share it with someone? If you can answer yes to most or all of those questions, send it. 

Sometimes the most useful content is something that is counterintuitive to what you might normally expect to receive. For example, inspirational quotes can be helpful in times of crisis and stressA genuine, shared sentiment from one professional to another is authenticNow is the time to reflect and reach out with genuine concern and an attitude of service.    

2.Context: We all know we’re in a coronavirus pandemic! 

How many emails have you gotten in the past week that started with something like, “Coronavirus, the deadly international pandemic, has recently brought business to a halt …” or, “In this time of unprecedented disruption caused by the deadly COVID-19 virus…”  

If your answer is “too many!” you’re not alone! We all know what happened, so there’s no need to start every email with it. Rather, begin with something that is relevant to the readerFor example, a computer networking company might start with: “Best tech tools for working at home during the pandemic.” Or, if you are a nonprofit, consider an approach like this: “4 Ways to Make an Impact and Help Others During the COVID-19 Crisis.” This is useful information that may help people and organizations during this difficult time.   

As we recently shared in an article on internal crisis communications on O’Dwyer’s, first and foremost employees need to know where they stand–every single day. Be clear and consistent, and above all else don’t keep them guessing. It all comes back to what you would want to experience. The same holds true with such key stakeholders as customers, students, supporters, investors, patients, and distributors. Just because in-person meetings and travel have halted doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t keep communications strong 

Over the past few weeks, how many conference calls and meetings have begun by talking about the bad news? Too many. Start by saying you hope everyone is doing okay, and that you’d like to start with the business agenda and hold off any conversation about coronavirus until the end of the meeting. Otherwise, you stand to spend the first 10-15 minutes not focusing on why you are all there in the first place.   

3.Timing: Be timely, or better yet, get there ahead of time. 

These days, with sheltering in place, time moves to its own strange beatit’s easy to forget whether it’s Tuesday or Thursday and if a call is at 2PM or 4PM. Days blur and what was true an hour ago can already have been replaced by new information–or misinformation. If you want to build a positive, productive relationship with your audience, communicate with them in real time, and look ahead, not back. What happened yesterday can seem like week ago, and no one wants to dwell on the past in this new reality. They want hope. 

As with any unexpected situation or crisis, if you look closely enough, you’ll find ways to be of service. You’ll unearth viable avenues to be an integral part of the conversationand the solution. Now, with weekdays blurring into weekends, we are no longer bound by when is a “good time” to send a social post or email campaign. The same thing applies to PR. Previously, our experience demonstrated that the best time to send a news release or distribute it on the wire was first thing in the morning on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. Over the past two weeks, we’ve gotten unprecedented pickup in late afternoons and on weekends. This is due to the fact that we are presently on a 24/7/365 news cycle.  

It is impossible to predict the future, even what will happen in the coming weeks, but to remain relevant, it’s critical to plan and execute strategic communications. Now more than ever, timelines should be developed and adhered toTiming has been altered, but you can still create a comms. roadmap of where you are and where you want to go 

If your organization needs help with crisis communications, PR, issues managementor COVID-19 communications strategy, contact Chris Rosica at PR@rosica.com or call (201) 806-6543 x 202. 

Expert Crisis Communications Council

Rosica specializes in health-related strategic internal and external corporate communications and media relations. We are helping corporations, public and private schools, universities, and nonprofits with COVID-19 communications preparedness and management.