Communications in the time of Coronavirus
Walpole have been sharing regular features around official guidance surrounding the financial support available for British luxury businesses from the government and also wider advice on topics and issues relevant to the COVID-19 outbreak. In the latest report, Dominic McCarthy, Founding Partner of ANM Comms, has written their guide to communications in the time of Coronavirus.
TIME TO PRACTICE COMPASSIONATE COMMS
The current situation in the UK and around the world has changed the way we do business and communicate now and possibly going forward.
Businesses have traditionally based their communication on the tried and tested approach of thinking strategically while acting tactically. We would like to add a third consideration for how you communicate and do business.
Operate strategically, tactically and spiritually – communicate in a way that uplifts the human spirit in these difficult times, as opposed to driving material or physical gains.
We may just be entering a new era of kindness.
Build and strengthen relationships
In the current period of uncertainty, the most achievable KPI that a business can hit is to build and strengthen relationships.
While sales and revenue will be affected dramatically, your ability to communicate, other than face-to-face, will not. Take this time to build closer relationships with key audiences: suppliers, the bank, employee, consumers and the media. Every hour spent building relationships this during the crisis will pay dividends when it passes.
Plan now for the future
The one thing that is certain is that this crisis will pass.
Most of our clients have pushed the activation budgets beyond the three-month quarantine phase. While maintaining a housekeeping approach from March-June, they are planning a busy late summer and Christmas. Most indications are that the lockdown will ease around mid-June. It is important that you have planned and are in a position to take advantage of the recovery period, whenever that comes.
This is especially important to those that export to Asia, as we are seeing that continent emerge and some Asian clients now want to come back online and start business as usual. Keep an eye on the situation in your key markets. Countries will exit the crisis to a different timeline and be prepared for this.
The new working environment allows you to review and reflect. What activations did and did not work in the last year? How can they be improved?
Take this time to review your messaging and brand values. Has the current situation changed how you are perceived by consumers and where you sit in the market place?
Will your messages still resonate once we exit this, do they need revising? We think that these troubled times will trigger a period of reflection and we are yet to see what consumers will want on the other side and how they will behave.
Sourcing locally, supporting your neighbourhood shop, sharing, responsibility, community and of course sustainability will all be themes that consumers will consider more important when we emerge.
During this period of lockdown, businesses should shift the focus of their communications.
Most of us focus 75-80% of our effort on the consumer. That needs to change. Your key audiences are the consumer, media, your business partners and your employees. Split your activities 50/50 across internal and external communications.
Communicating regularly with these four groups as you navigate the next 2-3 months will help you build those relationships we highlighted earlier as an achievable KPI.
There is a growing list of companies that have experienced PR disasters in how they have handled the pivoting and restructuring of their businesses in the last ten days: Britannia Hotels, Topshop, Wetherspoon’s and JD Sports to name a few.
Equally we are seeing businesses embracing the situation and acting responsibly, decisively and in a caring fashion. Dyson, Kurt Geiger, Brompton Bikes to name but a few.
Consider carefully your next steps and how you communicate them. Be responsible. Show humility. No one likes a loud voice and people want to hear compassion and empathy.
Don’t talk if you have nothing to say
We have all been bombarded by the endless emails from certain sectors on the health measures they have taken in the face of the coronavirus. Yes, we get it, and would expect these steps to be standard practice anyway. Do not feel the urge to continually communicate unless you have something compelling to say.
Keep your communication informative, practical, interesting and concise. We all want to open emails that help us tackle what is ahead of us and that make us feel positive. Too many businesses are just regurgitating the advice we already know from government and surveys saying ‘90% of the creative industry says the government is not doing enough’ do not help anyone.
If you are engaging the broadcast media have a unique, different angle. Some brands have done this well in taking advantage of the need for information from business. Brompton Bike CEO Will Butler-Adams gave a passionate vision on Sky News of what consumers will want when we come out of the crisis.
The media is changing
Be aware of what your media are doing. While some publications are suspending print versions and going 100% digital, others like the Evening Standard are pushing the printed paper in a clever move to fill the gap in London – stay across these developments.
Pick up the phone
While we all work remotely, the press will be deluged with emails and you may find it difficult to cut through. Pick up the phone if you have direct lines or mobile numbers and engage in conversation. In tough times this under used form of communication is coming to the fore. It allows a more personal approach for your communications. It’s good to talk.
Timing is everything
React to enquiries in an efficient and speedy fashion as this will reassure the consumer, employees and business partner.
Establish a timetable and routines for internal comms with your staff and business partners. Strengthen those relationships with regular contact and reassurance.
Be aware of the timings of the news cycle as it evolves during the crisis. The cycle now revolves around the daily press conferences by the PM (5pm) and the White House (5pm EST), the announcement by the NHS of the number of infections and fatalities (usually around 3-4pm). Understand when is the best time to execute your comms and be sensitive to the agenda of the day.
This is a challenging time to do business but offers us an opportunity to show the compassionate and better nature of us all. As we said earlier, we could be entering a new era of kindness. What we do now will be recognised and repaid exponentially in the future.
Take time to contact others
Take time to build those relationships we discussed above, help others and share your experiences of the unique challenges of the coming months. Stay in touch and show concern for the welfare of your staff and business partners.
Have you picked up the phone to your suppliers to see how they are doing? When did you last call your employees, have a non-business related call and ask how they are?
Help pass the time
Share practical, interesting ways to beat the blues of 12 weeks of lockdown with your audiences. I think this week the isolation will slowly creep into people’s minds.
As predominantly lifestyle brands, Walpole is well placed to ease the ennui. We are sitting on a gold mine of content which could be shared. I am waiting for Helen’s reading list as long as it does not include anything by Gabriel García Márquez.
If you can, be generous. Kurt Geiger, with 2 million pairs of shoes in the warehouse have offered all NHS Staff a 50% discount for a year. They have also asked those employees who are furloughed to help their local communities during this period in return for full pay. At the moment they are best in class in the generosity stakes.
Worry about your community
What can you do to help your business’s immediate community? If you can, focus on those around you with simple actions that are easy to exercise. Think global after the virus, act local right now.