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Addressing how major crises affect your business is never anything any small or medium-sized business wants to think about. Here are a couple of hints for making the most of your communications in times of crisis.

After talking yesterday with an [understandably!] concerned small business owner about what to say in her business' response to the current COVID-19 pandemic, crisis communications needs seemed to have exploded. Getting ahead of customer, employee, vendor, and public speculation should be a priority, so keep the following in mind when formulating your crisis communciations plan and responses.

Own the Narrative

Remember this - if you say nothing, it's easy for your audience to infer that you're DOING nothing. So addressing the elephant in the room - whether it's something broad-reaching like a pandemic or natural disaster or more specific like an incident at your office/building or trouble with a current or former employee - with a brief, pointed response is always the best policy. The optics of not addressing something can be read as many things - disengaged, uncoordinated, unconcerned, oblivious. None of those are a good look.

Remember the Audience

One size DOES NOT fit all when it comes to crisis communications. One key mistake businesses make in responding with crisis communications pieces is sacrificing specificity in favor of timeliness, meaning they work to just get SOMETHING out instead of spending a little more time getting the RIGHT thing out. This can backfire in a number of ways, but one common example is releasing a broad public response without having a simultaneous or fast-follow internal response with it. With the instantaneousness of today's communications channels, what happens if an employee sees a public response before an internal one is released? They immediately think "What about me?" and start panicking in the search for answers. Maybe they escalate to a direct supervisor - who may or may not know any more than they do! - or maybe they follow up with the media contact that's mentioned on the public response press release - potentially overwhelming that external communications contact with internal comms questions he or she may not have answers to. So be intentional and audience-specific in whatever responses you create.

Utilize Your Channels

With your audiences in mind, be prepared to release your responses across ALL channels - news pages, corporate websites, email, local and industry press outlets, social media, in-office print and anything else. This means you need to keep in mind the format of those channels. If you Tweet out a response communication on your corporate Twitter account, don't let the platform's character limit cut your messaging short. Best practice is to build a link to a standalone web page that contains the full response, and just set it up with a redirect: "Click here for ABC Company's response to the recent WHO declaraion of COVID-19 as a pandemic... [SHORTENED URL leading to full response page]". By utilizing all channels, you're giving it your best attempt to reach everyone who might have an interest in your company's response, and with the website redirect, you can measure the reach of your responses while making sure the whole message is communicated.

Use References

As you saw in the example above calling out WHO (the World Health Organization), using references and authoritative resources in your communications is another best practice. It shows conscientiousness and a deferrence to those agencies, authorities and organizations best-equipped to deal with the crisis your business is encountering. If you are a member of a trade or industry publication, showing you're coordinating with those entities is another way of showing proactive engagement in countering the specific challenges the crisis creates in your segment. 

Outline Steps

The steps you're taking to deal with the crisis need to be specific, and should ideally include remedies or alternatives if applicable. For instance, if you have a restaurant and you're confronted with a pandemic, talk about your stance on staying open, your commitment to supporting your employees and their families, your disinfection and sanitization steps, and your continued monitoring of sources like public health organizations and government regulatory bodies. If your business was planning to attend, present at or sponsor an event, make sure to include steps people can take to get that same content through a different channel. This can be either presenting a webinar series, redirecting them to other channels to get answers to the questions they were hoping to address with your employees at the event, creating a downloadable FAQ or highlights eBook or slide presentation, or giving them entry to a postponed event in the future. These steps not only build goodwill, they keep prospects in your sales funnel, and hopefully help minimize the economic impact of the crisis on your business.

 

Stay On-Brand...

As with all communications, make sure to put your brand voice into the response, and include how your response is in line with your company's mission. This is easier if you have a more corporate brand, and a little harder if you have a highly casual, fun-based brand. If you're a trampoline park, for instance, it could go something like this "At ABC Trampoline Park, we're committed to providing a fun, healthy, and safe place for families to spend time together. Due to the CDC's recommendations, we're [steps you're taking]. We looking forward to jumping back into things once the authorities have deemed it safe to do so! We appreciate your support and understanding in this situation." This approach keeps the "fun" of your brand in the message without skimping on the important work you're doing to support your mission.

But Mind the Tone!

Don't take your brand voice too far. Remember, it's a crisis and there are serious implications to what's happening. This means in the example above, it would be a little flippant to say "We hope everybody infected with COVID-19 bounces back quickly" because there are going to be some people who won't. You probably don't want to draw a correlation between bouncing and dying - it's not a positive one for your brand.

Get Help!

When in doubt, ask. Because crises move quickly, experience matters in communicating about them. We're always happy to help with crisis communications strategy here at GYRE Marketing. Contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by calling 715-455-1594.