Coronavirus – the ultimate crisis comms challenge

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Timing is everything when in the midst of a crisis comms incident. You can instantly spot the organisations that aren’t quite getting their timing right amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, as their communications continue to focus on the importance of washing your hands rather than staying home and staying safe, following the advice from the government on 23 March 2020.  

One launch that has no doubt unwittingly benefitted from impeccable timing is that of Disney+. No one could have predicted how so many of us would have signed up to the new channel because of the situation we find ourselves in. 

The pandemic has really tested the mettle of comms teams across the world, as being decisive is vital when faced with such a fast-moving crisis comms incident. At a time when complete accuracy has probably never been more critical, there just aren’t minutes to spare for proofing by committee and my weakness needing to sleep on it before signingoff an important piece for a client. So, what are the key comms lessons I take from the first weeks of lockdown? 

 Make it easy for customers 

It might sound obvious, but if you are asking your customers to check back on your website regularly for the latest from your organisation, simply popping a date on your coronavirus update each time you make a change is hugely helpful. A great example in the housing sector is PA Housing’s coronavirus update. 

In the early days of the outbreak, when I was checking, on a daily basis, whether or not my upcoming holiday was going to be cancelled, a date to indicate the most up-to-date information saved a lot of reading through pages and pages of updates.. In fact, Tui’s customer information page is segmented by country, making it easy to find out the latest updates for any upcoming holidays.  

 Gone for now, but not forgotten 

 As we support our clients at See Media through this crisis, we are all remaining positive and have one eye on when we are likely to emerge from the current lockdown 

In the housing sector, in which we operate, we are busier than ever, but for some brands outside housing, there has been a complete halt to their operations. There are some great examples out there of organisations that have completely got the balance right – reminding us they are there, without appearing to be profiteering from the crisis. 

Meanwhile, there are brands that are trying to inject a bit of light-hearted humour to the situation. But be careful, there is a very fine line that we just can’t cross right now. One brand I follow has this take: the Biscuiteers Ice-olation Challenge. This one works for me because it is something you can have a go at in your own home, in some of that spare time staying at home has allowed, without, I hope, causing any offence to those suffering immense hardship right now.  

 Perfect tone 

I’ve shared with colleagues a couple of email updates from the Woolacombe Bay Hotel in Woolacome, Devon, from the past couple of weeks. They have been superbly pitched, totally in tune with how I personally feel about the current situation. Leaving me to ask myself “how do they do that?. It might be a coincidence, and just a simple case of one like-minded comms anorak out there with a very similar style and tone to mine – it could be worth subscribing to their newsletter to judge for yourself.  

 However, we have all seen those social media posts, even from brands you would normally rely on to get things spot on, that have really made you cringe. I’m sure I won’t be alone in remembering just who got it right and those brands that haven’t realised we should really all be pulling together for the greater good, not promoting products and services that just aren’t appropriate right now. 

Staying the distance 

The main concern for those of us who specialise in crisis comms is the long-term impact of working at the level of intensity a crisis demands for weeks and months. In the main, we are extremely fortunate to be able to do our work from the safety of our own homes, but I am worried that the new normal will be already starting to take its toll. The temptation is to be permanently available to support business continuity and respond immediately, but we all need at least some down time if we are going to stay the distance.  

With that in mind, I’m off to ice some biscuits! 

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Sarah Thomasis an Associate Director at See Media