For most of us, the initial onslaught of crisis planning in reaction to COVID-19 came in March. It started out with a wave of positioning and holding statements, Q&As, internal communiques on safety and health concern, lists of steps companies are taking for remote work and to ensure their employees’ safety, advisories on the steps to take to prepare you and your family from getting sick, and updates on the status of companies’ operations. Social media monitoring channels were activated 24/7, landing pages were built, and marketing strategies (and goals) were reset.
Companies and state and local entities are now turning their attention to “reentry” issues such as how, when and, in some cases, “if.” News channels are busy reporting how states are preparing to allow certain types of businesses to open again, and many of the masses are getting antsy enough to protest their states’ lockdown practices.
If you work in a communications department or act as an advisor to companies, welcome to next big challenge: the proper communication strategy for the recovery phase.
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Here are five points that should be considered as we venture down the path of “the new normal”:
Monitoring tone and sentiment as part of a communications strategy continues to be important
Companies need to keep up with changing behaviors and new trends to avoid appearing “tone deaf” in their communications with customers and prospects. Make data-informed marketing decisions by continuing to monitor the relevant conversations across media and on social channels to seize engagement opportunity or become aware in the event certain conversations boil up again. Firms like PAN invest heavily in tools such as Trendkite and Audiense which will help in these efforts, but there are many others, as well. And don’t forget free tools like Google.
The value of measurement doesn’t diminish when a crisis hits
In fact, it becomes even more important. The ability to respond quickly and transparently to stakeholders often determines success or failure during a crisis. Being proactive about measuring your communications—ideally in real time—can help alleviate a crisis and maintain your organization’s reputation. It really is about “flattening the curve”—not about cranking up the volume of noise. The bottom-line measure of success is to turn the noise down. We begin tracking when the crisis happens, and if the noise keeps going up over time, you’re doing something wrong.
Don’t be afraid of transparency, and above all, don’t take an apologetic stance
Companies and individuals are all in the same boat, and there is no shame or failure here. This week alone, 92 companies from the S&P are scheduled to report earnings. What type of results and, more importantly, what level of guidance are they going to offer? Lower revenues? Significant losses? Projections of sharp downturns in future quarters? Layoffs? From a business standpoint it’s going to get worse before it gets better, and that’s to be expected. This situation wasn’t a result of poor planning of the management team, a product failure, or a computer hack. This is a time when you need to preserve your company’s brand and reputation, not rebuild it.
Aggressively perform competitive analysis to see how your business weathered the storm vs. others in your industry
Once you have a clean assessment of how COVID impacted the business, both short and long term, think about where the mix of public relations efforts needs to be prioritized. Lean on the market analysis and include corporate updates on the health of the business along with any product roadmap briefings. Engaging the help of market analysts—who will cite your company in reports, quadrants and waves and often make buying recommendations for their own customer base—can act as a springboard for alleviating any prospect/customer concerns over viability or the ability to deliver.
Devise a longer-term communications plan for driving the post-COVID conversation through thought leadership POVs and best practices
Now is not the time to throw the baby out with the bathwater and abandon all the preparation and planning work you’ve done up to now. Most companies (rightfully so) took an extremely conservative approach to marketing and public relations efforts during the COVID wave. But consider this: True thought leaders are the ones that clear the path for the thought followers, and they will be the first to reengage and reestablish their brands as industry trailblazers. Armed with today’s tone, sentiment, behaviors and trends, the leaders will look to capitalize on the topics and conversations taking place and will do so with renewed vigor and a goal of getting their company back to business as usual – and then some.
These are just a few examples of the topics to consider. Technology companies and their PR partners should collaborate now to address and architect plans for the next step in the COVID battle. Seek out as much information and thoughts from your target audience(s) as you can muster using surveys, polls, and interviews. Test your messages before putting the plans in place and moving to the execution phase. Like any good data-informed company, measure the results of your efforts and use that data as a guide for your next round of plans and strategy.
This article originally appeared on the PAN Communications blog; reprinted with permission.