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The Recap: Crisis Communications 101 — Facing COVID-19

Announcing the Next BAM Book Jam with Arianna Davis

Here's what we covered.

On April 1, BAM Communications hosted the webinar, "Crisis Communications 101: Facing COVID-19," led by Saramaya Penacho, Managing Director of Health Tech Practice, and Marlena Medford, Director of Content. 

Businesses are waking up to a different world each day thanks to COVID-19. On Monday, you’re figuring out how to manage a remote, distributed workforce. On Friday, you’re explaining your path forward to your customers. In this webinar, participants learned how they can prepare to take on each day and leverage crisis communications tactics to stay above water during the coronavirus pandemic. Click here to access the webinar slides.

 

Audience questions answered.

We had some great questions from the audience, so we compiled them together in this post for easy reference. If you have a question you want to have answered, drop us a comment.

Is there a crisis communications template I can use for my business?

Yes, see our template here. Keep in mind while there are components that apply to all businesses, it’s important to tailor your comms plan accordingly to ensure you’re realistic about how your organization distinguishes, responds, and learns from crises and issues.

What is the media interested in right now? How can I effectively pitch them stories?

Now more than ever, the media remains interested in concrete examples and high-impact stories that give value to their readers. In pitches during this pandemic, we encourage you to stay personable but cut to the chase more quickly. Avoid acknowledging the global pandemic, because that’s a given. Simply get to the point. Instead of inviting back and forth, be more direct in what you’re offering and they can use, such as, “Here’s data on XX from company YY that shows ZZ and is impactful in QQ ways. Feel free to use in your upcoming stories.” 

How many journalists have been moved over to cover COVID-19 from their normal beat?

Pretty much all of them! Some reporters aren’t 100% re-assigned to COVID-19, rather they are assigned when breaking news needs additional coverage (which is a regular occurrence!). This means their typical beat may take a back seat while they jump to cover COVID-19, but then jump back. This changes daily and weekly. So, expect stories to take longer and/or for anticipated publish dates to adjust.

Is curated content worth pushing right now or is it overplayed? If so, how?

It’s fine to share curated content, so long as it’s done tactfully. First, think about your audience’s priorities at this moment. If that curated content will resonate, it’s OK to share it. If not, pass on it. Additionally, it's important to add commentary that is relevant and furthering the narrative. For example, if you reshare an article on the economic downturn, consider what value your company's unique perspective can provide.

Remember, it's important to first acknowledge the gravity of the crisis we are all facing. This lets your audience know you’re not tone deaf. Any content, created or curated, should align with the mental state of your audience right now. 

What’s the best medium for sharing data? We have a portfolio company that just published data regarding transportation (public and private) usage, but they’re looking for ways to communicate this information.

Due to quarantine, people are spending more time at home online. They are consuming online content in new ways. If you have data to share, think beyond simply publishing it on your blog. Consider offering a free webinar where subject matter experts put the numbers into meaningful context. You could create infographics or a video that is easily shareable including your data that is easily digestible. Also, think about other companies you could partner with to broaden the distribution of the data. 

In addition, remember that journalists are busier than ever right now. If your portfolio company truly wants to secure media coverage, it’s going to be more difficult. It will likely require working with an agency that has long-standing media relationships it can tap into on your behalf. If that’s the priority, then it’s worth doing now more than ever. 

What are some best practices in terms of balancing the frequency of messaging? How much is too much versus making sure our community feels connected and heard?

In a time of crisis, it’s important to over-communicate, but with helpful information. Things are changing rapidly and people are hungry for information, but you should communicate when you have something new or meaningful to share. Also, remember different platforms demand different frequencies. You can message on Twitter more frequently and reshare, but email you have to utilize a bit more sparingly. 

What advice do you have to firmly but professionally advise your leadership to proactively respond to a crisis rather than wait and see how the competition responds?

A crisis is never the time for silence. We often say you can’t not communicate during a crisis. Even your silence sends a message — and it may not be a good one. Rather than let your audience write your narrative for you, step up to the mic, and set the record straight. A crisis of this gravity is precisely the time you need to double down on spelling out your company values to your audience, regardless of what the competition is doing. This is a time for leaders to emerge, not followers. Keep in mind you don’t have to say everything all at once (perhaps you do want to see what competitors do first). That’s okay! But still, say something initially so you don’t come across tone-deaf or silent. 

How do you cut through all the ‘Here’s what we’re doing to address coronavirus’ emails filling our inboxes?

Focus instead on how you can serve your audience during this crisis. Yes, your audience does need to know what proactive measures you’re taking and, sure, an email may be the most efficient way to do that. But beyond solutions, they need to know what value you can provide them right now. Spell that out clearly for them so every communication ensures a specific intention.

How should we talk about how we’re helping our portfolio companies without appearing like we are cheerleading ourselves?

It certainly depends on the medium and if you’re communicating to internal or external stakeholders, as well as what is your objective. In general, consider the “it’s not about me” mentality. People are interested in learning which companies are actually thriving during this pandemic and specifically how, but it must be authentically and empathetically communicated with specifics.

Any best practices in terms of keeping employees feeling connected, valued now that we are operating virtually?

This depends on your own company culture, but here are a few things we suggest that transcend across industries and company size:

1) Be sure your CEO and leaders are checking in frequently with employees. Literally just asking, “How are you feeling today?” can go a long way.

2) Be human and show you are. Leaders must be strong and avoid sparking panic, but showing how they themselves are adjusting in this “new normal” can be a powerful way to resonate with employees. Such as: sharing a selfie with the kids on the weekend, showing their makeshift gym in a spare bedroom, saying they are eager for a glass of wine, inviting others to meditate via Zoom, etc.

3) Give employees (optional) ways to connect such as baby-friendly happy hour so parents can have their kids join the video chat, a virtual lunch with everyone in their kitchens, etc.

Is it ok to change your crisis comms strategy after you issue a statement after listening to your audience’s feedback? If yes, how do you communicate that effectively?

It is absolutely OK to change your crisis communications strategy. In fact, this happens a lot because as the crisis evolves, your communications likely do, too. A crisis communications strategy should be a living document. If you are pivoting due to audience feedback, then say that. Acknowledge that you heard your stakeholders loud and clear, and are being receptive to that. If anything, your audience will appreciate the candor and receptivity.

How can you experiment with consumption during a crisis like this?

There are many ways you can experiment right now. For example, many consumers suddenly do not have a commute to work. They no longer have the drive to transition themselves to and from work mentally. So, perhaps they’re reading as a new way to decompress. You might consider sending your newsletter out at 6:30 p.m. rather than at 10 a.m. when folks may be looking for an easy read to unwind with and — boom, there’s your newsletter in their inbox.

Also, don’t forget that the organic reach on social media is exceptionally high right now because people are looking for more human connection. Think about ways you could dovetail your content delivery strategy into that.  

How do you best communicate with users when you're at a company that can't offer services right now (e.g., travel & tourism industries)?

The one thing all crises have in common is an end. Though this pandemic will have lasting impacts on our world, we will eventually emerge into a new normal. What will your story be in the post-pandemic world?

As that picture of “life-after-COVID-19” starts to come into focus, think strategically about how you want to be seen. Let’s use your example of travel and tourism—an industry that has been hard hit but will surely return. Perhaps this pandemic has illuminated the value of having exceptional customer service. Airbnb, for example, has truly shined during this crisis. It has provided flexibility to its customers during a time they needed it most. This is something customers will remember in the post-pandemic world. And, they did so proactively by adding a COVID-19-specific FAQ to their homepage so it was prominent for site users. Many competitors didn’t take this approach early on, which not only caused frustration for customers, but also created extra work for those companies with more inbound customer queries, social media complaints, etc.

Also, don’t underestimate the value you can provide to your audience right now. For example, if you are in the travel and tourism industry, do you have any virtual tour options for common tourist locations to send your audience? Look for overlap that still allows you to deliver value to your audience, and communicate on those topics. 

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