With the current COVID-19 global pandemic, crisis communications are suddenly one of the many new things businesses are finding themselves wrestling with. It’s understandable. Knowing what to say to your clients, leads, and other list members — and if you should say something at all — is an incredible challenge. There is no single “right” thing to say, but there are plenty of wrong things that could come off as tone-deaf, insensitive, oblivious, or worse — creating negative, lasting repercussions for your brand.
After navigating this space with a few of our clients, it’s become apparent some additional guidance for crisis communication is much needed.
Think: Should you even communicate right now?
Ultimately, whether or not you chime in on the COVID-19 crisis depends on two factors: whether or not the situation truly impacts your organization and/or clients and whether or not you are providing relevant, timely value for your audience.
In regards to the former, I’m going to go out on a limb and say this situation will indeed impact every organization in some way. But, is this something your audience actually cares about? If it will impact them at all, the answer is yes. If it only impacts you, the answer is no.
If you have helpful, beneficial advice based on your area of expertise relevant to these trying times, sharing that with your audience is a great idea and will add value. We are all in this together, and providing any help you can, provided it actually may help, will be welcome. Anything that may be viewed as your business attempting to capitalize on the coronavirus pandemic is ill-advised.
How to do it right
Of course, the “right” thing to say is relevant to why you are communicating. Beyond that, I do have a few tips for you:
- Be empathetic above all else. Regardless of what you are going through as a business, there are folks dealing with far worse. Do not go into this hoping to elicit sympathy, but instead, write from a place of care and understanding.
- Speak plainly. Attempts to be inspirational, humorous, or anything other than sincere and to-the-point will likely fall flat. This isn’t the time for flowery language or to try your hand at being an inspirational speaker. That can come off as inauthentic and unempathetic. Leveraging branded phrasing is also ill-advised. At best, it will feel promotional and self-indulgent. At worst, people will feel like you are selling to them. Stay on message and leave stories and non-sequiturs out of it.
- Have plain subject lines. Personalization, emojis, and all of the other marketing tricks for more opens should go out the window. The same goes for jokes and rhetorical questions. Subject lines like “Brand Name COVID-19 response” and “COVID-19 update from Brand Name” are perfectly appropriate.
- Lead by example. If you are offering advice relevant to the situation and your business, lead with what you are doing first. This is a time when “do as I say, and not as I do” is unacceptable.
- Keep it short. A lot of these messages are showing up in their inboxes. Don’t monopolize their time with a lengthy email.
- Consider sending out multiple messages. Saying it all in one email may overwhelm, and this can lead to important information being missed. Keep one topic per email.
- Don’t erode trust. If your usual actions are in line with recommended measures to keep people safe, lead with that. Don’t make your readers think that you weren’t doing these things all along, particularly if it’s relevant to your business.
- Don’t rehash what folks already know. Don’t beat your audience over the head with facts on the overall situation. They know what’s going on, and they know it’s bad. Grim statistics and hand-washing tips (unless relevant to how they interact with your business) should go out the window. Your customers can get them from any number of news sources. They don’t need a company to assail them with it as well.
- When in doubt, review messaging with counsel. For many companies, messaging about Coronavirus is a proactive measure to close any exposure to liability. If your company has a message about its response to Coronavirus/COVID-19, you may need more than a marketer or copywriter to advise, particularly if your business involves physical products or in-person client interaction. (FYI: What we are offering here is not legal advice.) Don’t hesitate to speak with your legal liaison or attorney to better ensure your well-intentioned broadcast email doesn’t have unintended repercussions.
Frankly, I don’t know. But I do know we’re all in this together.
Team Impressa and I are happy to be a resource as needed. We will send out valuable information when and if we have it. Additionally, we’re here if you would like feedback on any communications you plan to send out to your audience, want advice on adopting remote work, or if you’d like input on changes you’re considering for your marketing or sales strategy in response to the evolving situation.
Just grab some time on my calendar, and we can take it from there: https://howdy.impressasolutions.com/meetings/julieewald/crisis-comms-support.