Communicating through COVID-19 – think long-term, add value and celebrate success

Effective communication has never been more important.

At worst, businesses risk being labelled tactless, uncaring, self-serving – think Wetherspoons, Sports Direct and JD Sports – at best, tone-deaf. Businesses shouldn’t be afraid to communicate – “going dark” won’t support long-term business objectives – but it’s essential to strike the right tone and, above all, add value. 

Marketing campaigns and both external and internal communications plans will need to be carefully assessed, removing activity that is no longer appropriate, with new content to support both long and short-term objectives, focusing attention on supporting the business where the impact will be greatest.

For some more than others, communicating during the COVID-19 pandemic can feel like a minefield, but there are some basic principles all businesses – irrespective of sector – should follow:

Think long-term 

We’ve already seen some businesses responding to the pandemic with silence – pressing pause on all activity. That approach may seem logical to safeguard the company’s reputation and avoid falling foul of public opinion, however our current situation will not last forever – make sure your brand remains visible. PR isn’t valuable only in the good times, driving sales and positioning a business as the market leader, but also in navigating choppier waters, capitalising on opportunities and protecting hard-earned reputation.

Add value

All comms activity – whether press releases, emailers, ad copy or digital ads – needs more careful thought. Things are changing on a daily basis, so content that struck the right note yesterday may feel inappropriate today. Consider whether you need to be communicating at all – if it doesn’t add value, don’t say it. 

Don’t over-communicate 

While everyone appreciates the need for a business to market itself, it’s important to strike the right balance. Stakeholders will want to continue hearing from your brand, but comms mustn’t feel tone deaf. We must acknowledge the situation, without sounding like a broken record – subtlety and tact are key.

While it’s true that brands mustn’t “go dark” during the COVID-19 pandemic, don’t overdo it. A barrage of emails isn’t going to help the brand in the long-term.

Celebrate success and champion positivity 

Don’t be afraid to celebrate success – share good news while striking the right balance with tone and content. The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting lock-down hasn’t stopped people keeping up with the news – just the opposite, in fact; we’re all keen to hear good news, perhaps now more than ever. It won’t be “lost”, but instead has much less competition for headlines and is likely to see greater engagement. 

Demonstrate business as usual

While many businesses have transitioned to working from home, it’s important to demonstrate business as usual, reassuring both external stakeholders and employees. Publicise wins, however big or small.

“Holding onto it” until things get back to normal will be a sensible approach for some announcements and launch materials, but asses news on a case-by-case basis. For some things, the opportunity may have passed in several weeks’ time.

Communicating through the pandemic requires an agile approach to strategy and attention to detail – but with careful thought and a commitment to brand values, the continuation of PR and marketing activity will support the business as it navigates this new normal – however temporary – while positioning the brand well for the future. 

After all, while no-one can predict timescales, we can be sure that this will not last forever – things will return to normal, and those businesses that have communicated effectively across channels, adding value and demonstrating positive brand values, will reap the rewards.

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