How to communicate in times of crisis
In the face of a crisis, uncertainty, fear and the existence of a great deal of false information make communication a determining factor. The ideal in these cases would be to have a planned procedure that includes the steps to follow in case our company is plunged into a situation of these characteristics. But this is not always the case.
In recent weeks and in the context of the health crisis caused by the Covid-19, we have seen, first, that not all companies had "a guide to action" in a crisis. And also that, even if they had one, they had to adapt to the unforeseen, overnight, with the added bonus that the impact is sure to be profound.
Most companies have seen their activity reduced; many have had to close down, and we are ALL obliged to orient our work processes to comply with the necessary health and safety measures, especially the industry. What is indeed a common denominator, is the obligation to face the situation, prepare for the sudden change and, if possible, come out stronger from this crisis. And in this task, communication plays an important role.
Communication at the service of industry
Within an organization, communication is key, we need to constantly resort to the transmission of information to do our work. Communication is essential for teamwork and coordination between different areas of the company, but it is also an external tool, since every organization brings its reality, activity and aspirations to customers, suppliers and social environment.
It is here where communication must guarantee truthfulness, clarity and honesty, so necessary always and more in crisis situations. And, in addition, ensure that the channels of interaction guarantee the needs.
So, how to act in a crisis?
1. Demonstrate corporate commitment
As an organization, it is essential that we know how to mobilize in a structured way. The rapid response will convey professionalism, and this will influence the reduction of tensions and rumours.
Here, the role of management is of vital importance. It must be the one who "approaches", transmits confidence and credibility to the messages and reinforces its leadership position, making clear what is the role of each one within an extraordinary situation and prioritizing the actions.
The crisis will most likely change the reality of the business as we know it and, therefore, it is important that management listens to people and facilitates the construction of the best possible roadmap to succeed in the situation.
2. To control the flow of information
It is necessary to define a spokesperson within the organization, who assumes the communication responsibilities at all levels. A person who, in permanent contact with the key players in the organization, acts in a coordinated manner and with authority. Someone capable of leading the team that provides the information and/or manages the messages and corporate communication channels.
3. The messages
We need to establish not only the content but also the tone of the messages and their periodicity, which will vary according to the current phase of the crisis.
We may find ourselves in the situation of having to communicate aspects of the business, functions, exceptional measures, etc. In any case, we are faced with the responsibility of maintaining serenity and generating confidence. Our stakeholders must know what we are doing for them. Visibility is also important, as far as possible, to update the forecasts and actions being taken to mitigate the risks within our reach that may affect the business. In a deep crisis, everyone understands that threats do not depend on us directly.
This is where we must also appeal to the involvement of staff and other stakeholders, from whom we will need commitment, cooperation and support. And we should all show corporate loyalty. We have grown thanks to all of them and we need to keep the dialogue close than before. Explain what we do and why. The problem is clear, we "only" need to proactively provide clear, honest and truthful information at first hand.
4. Communication channels
In a crisis, "face-to-face" communication tools are not enough. And in this one even less so. It is true that we must maintain them, but we need flexibility, speed and, above all, to be able to reach 100% of the people with whom we communicate. Therefore, it is above all DIGITAL. In any case, they must be official, safe and agile channels.
It is important to maintain an updated and highly visible section on the corporate website, as well as to periodically review the social profiles if they exist. These have become direct channels even with customers and suppliers and, considering that immediacy is part of our mission, perhaps they will make the difference if we make good use of them.
5. Attention to stakeholders
On the one hand, the employees. It is the team that has contributed most to the competitiveness of the business. It is essential that they are the first to know the situation and how their role will evolve if they are affected by the crisis.
Without our clients, the company would not have a reason to exist either, and we must not forget that our situation can directly influence their activity. It is necessary that we maintain a fluid communication with them about what their expectations are and reinforce our commitment and loyalty, communicate the news or the reorganization that we are carrying out to reorient and guarantee the service.
The collaborators must also remain aware of our actions, they are useful to them, apart from providing forecasts on the development of our projects. We need them to guarantee stability and flexibility.
Finally, we have a responsibility to society. Citizens are grateful to know that we are there, that we are proactive in taking action and/or helping where we can.
6. When it's all over
If we did not have a specific communication plan before the crisis, it is already a learning experience. And if we did not have a communication plan "just like that", we will have learned more.
It is time to check, measure and assess what the consequences of this have been. Analyze the successes, make self-criticism and assess the damage that communication management may have caused to the activity and the brand.
If this is the case, we will be able to create the mechanisms that will help restore and improve communication to face the recovery phase.
Health, energy and perseverance to face a future more uncertain than ever!