COVID-19: What Communications Lessons Can We Learn from This Crisis?

The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly turned the business world upside down. Communications professionals have had quite the challenge laid before them.

Despite a constantly changing business environment, regional and cultural differences and a variety of other obstacles that have come their way, communications professionals have been working harder than ever behind the scenes to keep employees engaged, informed and hopeful.

Communications professionals have done all of this while facing the same fears and uncertainty, anxieties about protecting their families, adjusting to their new work from home environments and, for some, also serving as home school educators, IT managers and so much more.

It has certainly been a lot to juggle and yet they have risen to the occasion in so many ways.

For that reason, we salute our communications colleagues and partners around the globe, especially our client contacts at the following companies with whom we are proud to work for and with: 1stMILE LLC; Adient; BASF Refinish; Cooper Standard; Freudenberg Sealing Technologies; KIRCO; Munro & Associates; Rolls-Royce Power Systems MTU brand; SAE International; Schaeffler Group; and Yanfeng Automotive Interiors.

In this ongoing, marathon-like crisis likely to stretch out for weeks and perhaps months, we all need to celebrate our successes along the way, and increase our resolve to help our organizations to continue to move forward.

While there is still much more communications work to be done, now is a good time to reflect on some key questions (while the work is still fresh in our minds) which will help us as we move forward and in the future:

What worked well? Were we effective in communicating with all of our constituents (employees, customers, suppliers, etc.) in a timely manner? Did we utilize all of our communication channels (email, Intranet / employee portal, text alerts, video messages, virtual town halls, etc.) in the most effective manner? Were we consistent in our timing, in our messaging, in our tone and in underscoring our corporate values? Did we monitor our social media channels to gather questions and concerns and, in turn, respond as promptly and as completely as possible? And did we use those social media channels to share key information as needed?

What didn’t work? Are there things that we could have done better with enough preparation, lead time and resources? Are there communication technologies we could have had in place, such as a special employee app for mobile phones? Do we need to think about finding more resources to help us in the future? Did we have a crisis communications plan in place that helped us think through the steps of the process effectively (objectives, audience, messages, channels and executive roles)? Was it up to date or has the pandemic shown us some gaps that need to be addressed? Did we try to pitch media with product PR when they were only receptive to COVID-related news?

What could we have done better? What gaps were there in our communications efforts? Could we have communicated earlier or more frequently? Did we have appropriate crisis communications plans to reach employees that were no longer coming to work and perhaps don’t have internet access? Do we need to revise our crisis communications plan to account for different languages, different cultures and regional operational differences? Or do we need to create a completely new crisis communications plan that can be customized locally or regionally to better serve our needs and our constituents’ needs?

What have we always done that we have now found we no longer need to do? Did the new environment show us that some of the channels we have used for decades are no longer relevant or effective? And are there new channels and skills we as communicators need to master – and help our executives master – that will help us communicate more effectively in the days ahead?

What can we do moving forward? What can we be doing in this moment to be prepared to shift to the special communications that will be needed in the post-COVID-19 era and our “new normal”? And when is the right time to start moving forward with media relations efforts and communicating externally again? How do we best advise our management teams on future communication plans as we move forward?

As we navigate the weeks ahead and transition toward recovery, keep these questions in mind and make notes along the way, while the successes are still sweet and the mistakes still sting.

And one day, as we look back on this challenging time, as well as look hopefully to the future, we will be better equipped and better prepared to handle the communications challenges that come our way. We’ll have new best communications practices, new skills and new wisdom with which to support our leaders and organizations.

What question did we miss? What other questions would you add to this list? We welcome hearing from you!

Author: Jessica Muzik

Jessica is vice president – account service at Bianchi PR with 24 years of PR experience across the corporate, industrial and community perspectives.

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