Communicating in an Age of Adversity: Initial Lessons Learned from the COVID-19 Era
There’s no arguing COVID-19 has touched everyone and every organization. The question is by how much, in what ways and how are organizations handling this adversity? This is what we tried to cover in our recent webinar, An FH Conversation: True Stories and Lessons Learned from the COVID-19 Era. For brands, the crisis raises new questions daily, especially as they look to chart a phased path to recovery. And, for the most part, there are no simple answers.
But, based on the latest consumer research from our True Global Intelligence practice, who surveyed more than 6,500 adults from six countries across three continents, we know one thing is certain: this is a defining moment for brands, their CEOs and their relationships with stakeholders. Brands will be judged on how they behave for years to come. The world is watching…and employees, media and influencers are keeping score as a way to separate leaders from bad actors.
Key takeaways from the experts who presented include:
- Tear down silos: More than ever before, the confluence of needs from different stakeholders means companies must bring together all their communications functions — Government Affairs, Employee and Corporate Communications — into ONE team to plan for the likely daily scenario and have scenario plans and materials ready.
- Employees must be the communications priority: Their views will impact engagement, hiring and retention well after the pandemic especially as 14% will look at a how a company behaved when deciding whether or not to work there; 10% won’t be loyal, and 9% will look for another job. Furthermore, about one-third of consumers intend to buy from companies who took care of their employees, so behavior and actions matter.
- Online events are here to stay: It’s clear a move online will be necessary for the foreseeable future. The good news is digital events can actually drive a wider reach for the brand and can give you more mileage from your investment in content.
- COVID-19 fatigue is starting to set-in with media organizations: While the pandemic continues to drive the conversation, we’re seeing stories center on the chain of impact: How economies may reopen, defining the new normal, looking into the wealth gap, mental health and well-being, consumer confidence and the economy, environmental benefits and the triumphs and challenges of technology.
- Social strategies need adjusting: Social listening, with aggressive social monitoring to know how you are being perceived, is critical; so is having a clear governance process and escalation protocol now that the tone and tenor of the social conversation can change dramatically daily. Brands should take the time to evaluate the specific value they can offer their audiences — weather it is information, leadership, or when appropriate, celebration of employee and customer actions.
- Crisis preparedness and management is even more paramount now: Not only is the pandemic a massive, disruptive crisis that’s drastically changed how we live and work, it also has created personal crises of confidence that are staggering in their own right. Everyone, it seems, is in the midst of their own existential crisis — our research shows 78% are concerned about their health and 74% concerned about their financial security. Brands should be thinking beyond just dealing with the immediate operational recovery issues and plan now for how to help their people and customers regain confidence and trust. Brands need to prepare now for how to mitigate these concerns, especially as the next phase of “re-opening” and “returning” occurs. Don’t just react to what comes at you each day, plan ahead and align your response to address all of these fears.
Our point of view is brands should think beyond merely surviving the moment. They should aim to emerge as part of the group of companies who lived their values and seized the opportunity to build stronger relationships with their stakeholders. Our research indicates the number one driver of reputation coming out of this crisis is how organizations take care of their employees. They’ll be judged not by what they said but by how they behaved. As the great Vince Lombardi once said, “Adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals it.” And that could be the difference-maker between a leader and laggard reputation for years to come.