Communicating in a crisis: Adjusting to the reality of Covid-19

Businesses have moved quickly, but the outbreak is creating unforeseen challenges

By David Kinch MKC Communications

THE UNPRECEDENTED COVID-19 crisis has had a rapid and significant impact on all, both personally and professionally. 

In a short space of time, we have witnessed the growth of a large-scale health crisis that has already had a profound impact on industries and livelihoods. 

While the priority will always be public health, economic and business prosperity are vital to the health of a society. 

High profile sectors such as hospitality and travel have been the first to feel the effects of Covid-19 but no sector is likely to escape unscathed. Many businesses have moved quickly to implement remote working and other contingency measures, but the outbreak is creating unforeseen challenges. 

As businesses adjust to this new reality, they must consolidate in the short term while also beginning to look forward now. 

Through our work across multiple sectors with international, national and local organisations, we are seeing a necessity for good communications.

In the current climate, businesses should consider what they really need and want to communicate, to whom, what that message will say and when they will communicate it. 

While there will be unexpected developments and external market conditions impacting the broader economy, businesses need to look at their objectives and targets, and how these have been affected. 

Adjustments to objectives based on immediate needs will dictate communications. Clear and consistent communications with customers, clients, employees and broader partners will fundamentally serve to protect the business.

Related to this, communications and marketing teams should — if they are not already — be included in all senior management activities to advise on appropriate methods and how they can be implemented in a fast-moving environment. 

Mapping audiences

As businesses get to grips with the situation, they should map all internal and external stakeholders in detail, for example, employees, suppliers, customers and competitors. 

During times of crisis, it is crucial to understand who the core and secondary audiences are. Different audiences will have various requirements and concerns, and as such will require tailored information on how a business is adjusting and operating. 

Effectively mapping audiences will help to further mitigate risk to a business and potentially lead to opportunities by identifying unknown stakeholders or new possible customers and clients.

Aligned to mapping activities, business leaders and their communications teams should develop a suite of messaging that reflects the current landscape and their overall business needs. Communicating continuity of service effectively and promptly will serve the business in the immediate and longer-term. 

These messages, as appropriate, need to be communicated consistently through the business’ channels such as its website, directly via customer communications and where possible externally via marketing activities. 

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Immediate needs

To deliver these key messages with impact across all relevant audiences, businesses should develop a short-term communications and marketing plan aligned to the immediate needs posed by the COVID-19 crisis. 

If fit for purpose and appropriate in the current climate, an existing plan could be amended but fundamentally any communications need to be tangible, actionable and measurable. 

Reaching the target audience in the current climate will be key. A business might, for example, consider increasing its online advertising expenditure, given more people are working from home or build media relationships to communicate its key messages and insights from the business. 

The challenges posed by Covid-19 are immediate and pressing, however, all current and reactive communications activities should take into account the potential future activities of the business. 

By developing messages and tactical communications that are strategically aligned now, a business can quickly build momentum when things return to normality. Post Covid-19, businesses will need to quickly show that they are well-positioned to meet the needs of their customers. 

While the exact duration of the crunch caused by the virus and its full impact on businesses is not known, good communications and planning for the future will go a long way towards weathering the current situation, safeguarding market position and building for future success. 

David Kinch is Client Director at MKC Communications.

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