Communicating in a crisis

Ça va bien aller/Everything’s going to be okay – National Arts Centre © Dossier Communications.

The flurry of messaging we’ve seen since the shutdown has been fascinating from a communications point of view. I’m finding a distinction between regular crisis communications, in which the issue affects your company and you become the story, and communicating in crisis, where an issue is affecting everyone, your company included.

Some companies get it right. (Here’s looking at you Galen Weston, with your informative and considerate approach.)

Some get it so wrong I’ve actually sent in a complaint. (When everyone is at home baking up a storm and packing on the COVID-19 pounds, no I don’t want to hear from a weight loss company.)

Here’s a quick tips summary:

 If something happens and you can’t offer business as usual, your audience needs to hear it from you as soon as possible. It’s okay if you’re not 100% sure of your plan – let them know you’re aware of the situation and you’re working on it.

 Silence can be taken as indifference, ignorance or secrecy. If everyone is talking about an issue but you’re not addressing it, your audience will wonder why. The official word from you is accurate and reassuring, but incorrect or misleading information, rumours or speculation from others can be damaging. (For more, here’s a good article about dealing with misinformation that also covers the dangers of myth-busting.)

 Don’t do a hard sell when people are feeling vulnerable. Check in with them, don’t push them. You may be worried about your business, but your audience is worried too – this pandemic is a shared experience. Remember, a key part of marketing is recognizing it ain’t about you – it’s about what you can do for your audience.

 If you’re tapped out and can’t think creatively (because all your energy is spent trying to survive), remember that sharing is caring. If you come across content that’s helpful or interesting, chances are your audience will like it as well.

If all you can do is read yet another blog with COVID-19 advice, that’s okay too. No one expects the Spanish Inquisition – or a global pandemic.

When the shutdown hit Ottawa, I was working with a client on establishing their social media presence and training their staff, to increase awareness of their work. Suddenly we had to switch to online sessions and crisis key messaging to let their audience know their centre was closed to the public but certain services were still available. I’m happy to report we pulled it off and they’re doing a great job.

Hang in there.