SUSAN K. MEDINA
I have had numerous clients, colleagues and friends reach out with similar questions recently … “When is it okay to get back out there with our message and/or start communicating and marketing again, and what do we say?”
Unfortunately, there is no easy answer. In so many ways, this reminds me of post 9/11 when we were mourning as a nation. In the weeks following the attacks, we were not only grieving the many lives lost, but also pondering, from a national security standpoint, what this meant moving forward. On so many levels, it shook us to the core.
What is happening with this pandemic feels eerily familiar.
Shortly after 9/11, I decided to leave my position as head of governmental affairs and public relations for the North American Development (NAFTA) Bank and start my strategic communication consulting business.
Yes, what a time to make that decision. After establishing SKM Communication Strategies, the question then was, as it is now: When is it okay to start communicating corporate messaging again?
When is Communicating Non-COVID-Related News Okay?
As you consider sharing corporate news, it is of utmost importance to first be mindful of the sensitivities and sorrow of so many being adversely impacted by this horrible virus.
That being said, SKM has placed news releases on hold for a number of clients and also advised leadership to postpone previously scheduled events.
But that is not the case for all clients.
A client in the oil terminal/storage tank space had significant news to share recently, and because of the abundance of oil production with limited storage capacity in the U.S. right now, the news of additional oil storage tank completion was news that was timely, critical to the market and appropriate to be shared.
How does your company or client know what news is considered timely, critical or appropriate? Ask these key questions when gathered on your next Zoom call as you debate communication outreach:
· Is this that important? Does this really matter right now?
· What will the perception of this message be?
· Could there be unintended consequences from communicating too soon?
· Is this self-serving?
Be honest as you and your team talk through these questions. How your company or client manages through our current crisis could be what folks remember for a long time to come.
Remind Clients and Stakeholders Why They Chose You in The First Place
To keep your business top of mind with clients and stakeholders right now, consider messaging and/or a campaign about your history together. Remind them why you have walked hand in hand so well together over the years – or months if that is the case – and retell your story.
This is applicable to a business to business relationship, as well as corporately with your customers. Let them know you will walk through this storm together and be stronger in the end as you help guide them through the unknown.
I have seen numerous national campaigns take this route and be authentic. Early on, Guinness took its COVID-19 messaging head on in light of St. Patrick’s Day parade cancellations with “Don’t worry, we’ll march again,” and more recently, Nike struck a purposeful balance with its “Play Inside, Play for the World,” campaign.
Prepare Your Clients or What Could Be Ahead
If your company has not prepared media holding statements in the event an employee or someone tied to your business contracts COVID-19, now is the time to do so. Unfortunately, the numbers show we have not hit our peak of COVID-19 cases.
Also consider what other aspects of your business could be impacted?
With Texas Gov. Greg Abbott lifting new business restrictions weekly, many companies are scrambling to develop policies and procedures around employees and customers coming back to the business space.
And while employee manuals and policies typically fall under the Human Resource (HR) function for many companies, a communications professional can be of great benefit in an advisory capacity to HR when it comes to setting the right tone for messaging and perception.
Lastly, always remember that while many HR policies are intended to be internal documents, there is pent-up frustration with disgruntled and worried employees over the COVID-19 crisis who feel no obligation to keep corporate policy private.
I always say never put anything in an email, letter or text, that you wouldn’t mind seeing on a billboard … or in 21st century terms, on social media.
Fort Worth and Tarrant County are extremely fortunate to have many generous corporate and individual donors when it comes to our local nonprofits.
However, this crisis has moved many nonprofits to the brink of closure, and seriously impacted the ability of many others to serve the needs of those who utilize those services most. If your company has not found a nonprofit to support or partner with during this crisis, it is not too late.
The United Way of Tarrant County is a good place to start as they have created the United Way Emergency Relief Fund (https://www.unitedwaytarrant.org/donate) with 100 percent of funds being distributed to help those adversely affected by COVID-19. This includes everything from assistance purchasing non-perishable meals for the elderly and homebound, to child care assistance for emergency responders and social services for veterans.
Let Us Shift
Raise your hand if you heard or read an interview today where a corporate spokesperson used the term “pivot.” More than once? Okay, more than five times?
The “pivot” has quickly become the most overused term in our collective business community. And I dare say, it is time to promote and encourage the use of other terms, such as “redirect” or “shift.”
Because at the end of the day, it is low hanging fruit, and it is time to think outside the box and lean in as we shift to a new paradigm and get our ducks in a row.
Sorry, I couldn’t resist.
Be safe and be well.
With more than 25 years’ strategic communication experience, Susan K. Medina founded SKM Communication Strategies LLC (SKM) 18 years ago and provides strategic client service in the areas of public, media, governmental, stakeholder and community relations and crisis communication. SKM is certified as a Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE), Historically Underutilized Business (HUB) with the state of Texas, Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB), Small Business Enterprise (SBE), and is a member of a number of nonprofit boards and committees throughout Fort Worth.