March 23, 2020 Communicating through times of crisis

By Claire Hielscher

microphone

Crises can come in many forms. They can be natural, man-made or humanitarian in nature. They can develop gradually over time or appear suddenly, dramatically uprooted our lives in ways we couldn’t imagine. Collectively, we’re currently facing a crisis of global proportions. The COVID-19 (or Coronavirus) outbreak has hit our shores – and it’s hit them hard. Almost hourly news updates reveal more strictures, shut-downs and unprecedented worrying developments across the banking, travel, entertainment and health care sectors.

These are stressful and uncertain times for businesses and individuals alike. While the crisis is far from over, the way we handle it as creatives and strategists can help ease immediate confusion and lay the groundwork for a return to better times. Communicating effectively through a crisis isn’t easy, but it’s necessary if your goal is to help inspire a moment of calm within an often overwhelming sea of chaos.

We’ve penned a few thoughts about the importance of communicating during a crisis, and some priorities for businesses to focus on while we all face this tough time.

Why crisis communications are important

It’s human nature to try and find order amongst chaos. We look for patterns, search for reasons and apply various solutions to solve the problem. The way you communicate during a crisis can assist those in your immediate orbit to find something tangible to hold onto.

No matter your brand, industry or degree of influence, how you communicate during these times matters.

What do effective crisis communications have in common?

There’s no one way to approach your crisis communication plan. However, there’s some things that all effective businesses and organisations have in common with their communications.

They address the problem early

In times of crises, many businesses have a tendency to wait until the last moment to make a statement or keep employees in the loop. However, speed and tone are essential when responding to a crisis. 

Even if you’re still grappling with the problem (as many of us are in the current climate) a simple acknowledgement of the problem can let those close to you know you’re thinking of ways to address it. Not only will this help you maintain your existing credibility, it will demonstrate your agility and ability to always be thinking ahead.

They’re honest and transparent

Those who communicate well during a crisis aren’t just swift, they’re also sincere. They acknowledge that there is a problem and clarify what they’re doing about it, even if it’s at the ‘wait and see’ phase.

The biggest threat to many businesses is a loss of trust. Being silent does nothing to reassure your clientele or staff. The way you respond to a crisis can be pivotal. If handled well, it can make some customers trust you more. On the other hand, if you’re closed and obstinate the very opposite can occur, leaving your meticulously built brand in tatters.

Which camp you’ll fall into can often come down to how open, calm and (cautiously) optimistic you are during times of trial.

They approach it with a sense of empathy

Businesses who communicate well through a crisis don’t focus on themselves: they turn the spotlight on those they rely on. Instead of being self-focused, they put themselves in the shoes of their clients, partner businesses and major stakeholders. They make the extra effort to understand pressing anxieties and reassure even during periods of volatility.

In short, they approach the situation with an overwhelming sense of empathy. Sometimes you’ll nail these communications, and other times you may miss the mark. Regardless, it’s still better to attempt to build this bridge of understanding than to leave it wanting entirely.

Who is communicating well through the COVID-19 pandemic?

While the current pandemic has been devastating for many industries, it’s also ushered in examples of great resourcefulness and creativity.

In the creative sector, art collector, businessman and Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) owner David Walsh artfully announced the cancellation of the annually anticipated Dark Mofo festivities. Various conferences and workshops have been moved online, including Google Cloud Next ’20 and Apple’s annual developers conference, WWDC. In Melbourne, the Melbourne Zoo has communicated that it will live stream the animal activity, much to the delight of its now online public. Meanwhile, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra received rapturous applause for its decision to stream all of its upcoming performances free of charge via YouTube.

Celebrities are also navigating the world of crisis communications with a sense of style, with many using their brand muscle to shift the conversation. Superstars such as Chris Martin and John Legend took to Instagram to soothe those going through the loneliness of self-isolation. On the fitness front, Keep It Cleaner (fitness app) is doing free live stream HIIT classes on their public Facebook page to also help those experiencing isolation. Even our good friends over at Luminary are responding to the crisis with style and grace, redefining what it means to work with a ‘distributed team’.

Much of these communication successes come down to knowing who your audience is, where they’re interacting with your brand and how they’ll respond.

Preparing your crisis communications plan

Preparing your crisis communication plan is about more than stemming negativity and planning for the worst. It’s also an opportunity to demonstrate how you can pivot and evolve. Perhaps most importantly, it’s an opportunity to show your network how pivotal they are to your ongoing success, and that you genuinely care about their experience with your brand.

At Avion Communications, we’ve been thinking intently about all of these things. If you need a team of communication experts by your side to help you weather this storm, reach out to us today. We’ll take the time to understand your customers and speak in your voice. Together, we can keep your audiences inspired, entertained or enlightened – whatever it takes to help us all stay connected at a genuine and human level. After all, we’re all in this together.