A guide to responsive and agile communication during the coronavirus crisis

communication

Yellow Panda founder Amanda Williams.

With COVID-19 wiping trillions from the global economy, it’s an understatement to say businesses everywhere need to be prepared for the ongoing fallout.

My advice to all business owners is to plan key messages around how you will continue to serve your customers and keep communication flowing as the impact of coronavirus continues to reverberate.

The big end of town, with their communication departments and strategists, are likely well ahead of the game, but small and medium businesses need to get on the front foot.

Case studies

I will use my Naturopath, Sarah Franklin, as an example. I met with Sarah today and asked how she was preparing to keep her business afloat in the event of a lockdown.

Sarah mentioned she had a plan to distribute information to all of her clients, via email, text and social media, to advise it would be business as usual, but with a few adjustments.

For example, consults would be by video or telephone and supplements and herbals would be available for collection, packaged up and left at the front door of the clinic or sent through Australia Post (permitting it continues operating).

Other business owners I have spoken with have similar plans in place to continue to conduct business, but with consumers panicked and jumping to conclusions about how they see the world falling apart in the coming weeks, communication is imperative.

When I asked one of my building industry clients, Safetyline Jalousie, how its operation was faring in the current climate, it reported it was largely unaffected because the manufacturing of their product was done in Australia.

It’s certainly a fine opportunity for local manufacturers to communicate their ‘Made in Australia’ credentials, highlighting they are ready to do business despite supply issues in the broader market.

The key is to tread lightly. Already coronavirus has triggered some unsavoury xenophobic sentiments so be sensitive in your messaging.

No doubt, however, local manufacturers have swum against the tide long enough, so an opportunity to capitalise on an unforeseen competitive advantage will not be harshly judged.

But if your business is already being squeezed by coronavirus fallout, as we’re seeing play out in the tourism industry, it’s important to stay positively engaged with the market.

Here are some things to consider going forward.

1. Assume nothing

Don’t assume your staff or customers have access to reputable information, create your own summary of the facts and implications (guided by expert opinion) which anticipate solutions to problems that may arise.

You should update and share this summary regularly as things evolve. Some immediate things to consider are polices relating to staff travel, remote work and supply chain stabilisation.

It’s good practice in uncertain times for all businesses to reassure employees and consumers alike that plans are in place and any future responses to commercial challenges have been pre-empted rather than made on the run.

A good example of this was Uber’s recent announcement it had plans in place to sideline drivers and riders who are infected or been exposed to the coronavirus. The company has also armed drivers with disinfectants and said that Uber Eats deliveries can be left for customers at the door.

2. Be confident and agile  

You need to engender confidence in your business and be agile in identifying other market openings or opportunities in the meantime.

A good example is the ‘holiday at home’ push, which was floated after the bushfire crisis but looks set to gain traction with Australians unsure of what’s ahead with overseas travel restrictions.

At present, the travel industry reports some cancellation of short-term overseas travel, largely to Asia, but concedes 2020 will be a lean year as many Australians reconsider their international holiday plans.

One of my clients, in-flight comfort aid Fly LegsUP,  is planning to roll out a comms plan highlighting the suitability of its product for bus and train travel, to hopefully capitalise on any increase in domestic long-distance travel.

3. Don’t be a shitty human

Confidence, like charity, should begin at home. It’s easy to feel powerless. Instead, help the most vulnerable.

Use your business and your communication channels to help spread the message about looking out for those who are most at-risk during this time.

In a world plagued by this pandemic, if you can be anything, be kind! Kindness and consideration of others will make a big difference in how this plays out.

Keep communication channels open

While I don’t have all the answers as to how individual businesses should navigate the way ahead, a clear communication strategy is key to riding out, and perhaps even rising above, the coronavirus curveball.

Very few would have factored its impact into their business projections. We can all be forgiven for that, but we can’t be forgiven for not acting now to get our strategies in place.

The take-home advice is to keep communication channels open.

A clear message will be equated to confidence in your business and, in uncertain times, that perception may just be the self-fulfilling prophecy that’s needed.

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