Coronavirus: Top crisis communication guidelines for brands in the region
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Coronavirus: Top crisis communication guidelines for brands in the region

Coronavirus: Top crisis communication guidelines for brands in the region

Fact-based and real-time communication is critical

Gulf Business

The coronavirus outbreak has sent the stock market into a tailspin, ‘locked down’ cities, and caused a pandemic of fear. Rumours, misinformation and contradicting statements have created global confusion and panic, underscoring the need for effective communication so that businesses can help employees and customers navigate the crisis and reduce the associated uncertainties and insecurities.

Here are six crisis communication guidelines that will help steer your business through the coronavirus outbreak.

1. Identify and prioritise your key audiences

By identifying and prioritising key audiences, businesses can determine the frequency, channels and nature of the communication that is required. As a general rule, employees are the lifeline of any organisation and thus constitute the primary audience – ensuring that they feel safe, secure and supported has to be a priority. Next are your external stakeholders: your customers, investors and the wider business community.

2. Engage in clear, effective and multi-channel communication

Fact-based and real-time communication is critical. Employees and external stakeholders alike are looking for accurate and helpful information to keep them safe, so it’s essential for companies to develop communication protocols and identify communication platforms that can reach everyone. This means implementing a system of ‘one-time publishing’ across all communication channels, including social media, website, internal intranet, etc. so that there is consistency in messaging and no delay in information dissemination.

3. Aim for speed and accuracy

There are two elements that are the cornerstone of any crisis communications strategy: speed and accuracy. While time is of the essence, it is imperative to confirm accuracy and not add to the rumour mill – always make sure you know the facts before you speak. This can be ensured by conferring with experts, closely monitoring the situation and staying up to date on the latest developments.

4. Be consistent and honest – in what you know and don’t know

In an age of 24/7 news coverage, it’s important for companies to ensure frequent, consistent and honest conversations that directly address fears and uncertainty. A vacuum in communication can fuel anxiety, so it’s critical to keep in regular touch with credible and transparent communication. It’s okay to let people know that you don’t have all the facts but are working on getting them and constantly assessing the situation – this goes a long way in garnering the trust and confidence of employees and customers.

5. Protect your brand reputation

The coronavirus offers a unique opportunity for some brands, especially in the healthcare sector, who have seen an increase in interest and demand for medical and self-care products. While advertising products that people want during a crisis period isn’t wrong, it’s important to give it the right context and not be seen as ‘opportunistic’ during a sensitive time.

If you do decide to amplify your marketing efforts, ensure that you are protecting your brand image and not using mass promotional techniques. Instead, focus on targeted advertising, for example use artificial intelligence technology and algorithms to analyse which audiences are searching for specific content or key words (such as types of medical products) and then specifically target those audiences.

6. Put safety before profit

A crisis situation is not the time to be trying to sell more, it’s a time to show solidarity and oneness with the wider community. Brands should actively look at increasing their CSR, donation and volunteering efforts, to show a commitment of time and resources towards mitigating the damage. From a PR perspective, it will also go a long way in demonstrating your position as a good corporate citizen and show that you ‘put your money where your mouth is’, when it counts.

Zaib Shadani is a PR consultant and media trainer at Shadani Consulting

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