How to quickly pivot communication priorities—without losing your way

Overhaul planned content to avoid tone-deaf gaffes, invest in digital events, and rejigger your media relations strategy to dovetail with our current state of affairs.

How to pivot comms priorities

As communicators, we have much to contend with right now as the COVID-19 crisis continues to upend the business world.

Our well-laid plans have been utterly disrupted, and we are scrambling to adjust to this new (and hopefully temporary) reality. Of course, no one knows how this long this new reality will dominate our operations, but it’s crucial to quickly adapt, alter or completely redo communication plans and messaging to match our current environment.

Here are five considerations to help your integrated communications programs remain as effective as possible amid this uncertain, tumultuous season.

1. Review content to ensure its sensitivity and relevance.

Do this right now: Review all planned content for blogs, webinars, social media, contributed articles, email marketing, paid ads and sales campaigns. Ensure it’s not tone-deaf. What was profound last month might seem petty, out of context or even offensive this week. Consider whether evergreen content should be postponed. Instead, publish helpful content that speaks to the mindset of the moment. However, don’t force an angle if you don’t have a helpful perspective on the topic.

As a next step, train your teams and spokespeople on any phrases or narratives that they should eliminate from their vocabulary for the duration of this crisis. If there are big changes, consider a media and message training session.

2. Invest in digital events.

If an event you were planning has been cancelled, consider these alternatives:

Instead of a panel, lead a webinar or podcast with the same speakers and presentation content. Invite as many of the customers, prospects and journalists you were hoping or expecting to attend, and then extend that list to those who weren’t attending.

If you were making a major in-person announcement or hosting your own branded event, consider using a platform such as On24Broadnet’s Access Live or BrightTALK to create a digital experience to share the news and stakeholder-specific content. Promote the event to attendees and unveil your news – just like you would have on stage.

Also, consider the speaking engagement programs you’ve put in place for your speakers – how do those need to change this year in light of fewer conferences taking place? Grab a video snippet of your executives to go along with any submissions you’ll be making, as it’s likely that show coordinators will be considering their video presentation abilities as much as the content.

3. Prioritize internal comms.

Between the rumors and constant coverage of the coronavirus, employees want answers and need calm, consistent and transparent leadership. Work with your execs and HR teams to map out a strategic communication plan. Include helpful resources such as:

  • Tips for staying healthy
  • Plans and conditions for remote working
  • Health insurance benefits, and what to do if you think you might have been exposed to the virus
  • Revisions to travel or other policies
  • Plans for school closures or community lockdowns
  • Updates on any other office locales and colleagues in other affected areas

This information should be shared regularly via multiple internal channels and assessed daily.

When sharing information internally, don’t forget to invite feedback and questions. Create a safe place for dialogue and support. Crisis comms author and expert Bill Coletti advises businesses today to be transparent about decision-making, telling your employees what you’re doing – and why. Honesty is the only policy if you want to build employee trust, morale and engagement.

4. Reset your media strategy.

The media’s attention across consumer, business and even trade publications is occupied by COVID-19 fallout. By extension, your target audience’s attention is consumed by the coronavirus. This does not mean we should halt all business as usual, but it does mean we should reset our expectations for media coverage or move large announcements to later in the year when they can make more of an impact.

For companies that have insight or angles around the pandemic, tread carefully. Intent matters, and you don’t want to come off as though you are trying to benefit from this crisis. If your true intention is to help, and your product, service or expertise can genuinely assist people right now, do not hesitate to get the word out. However, do so with a goal of education, not commercial gains. Journalists are seeking factual, educational information, not promotional content. Focus on how you can provide value to their readers.

Remember: Even if you’re not communicating directly about the crisis, still ensure that your spokespeople are prepared to speak to it. Even if sharing unrelated news, you’ll likely get questions about COVID-19.  Equip your spokespeople with background and speaking points on the situation to prevent any unfortunate mishaps.

5. Reconsider your paid strategy.

During this crisis, consider if right now is the best time to spend advertising dollars. Your target audience is likely distracted, uncertain and mentally preoccupied with other personal matters. To that end, it’s in your best interest to adjust ad spend and shift messages to be helpful and educational instead of overly promotional—or just pause ads entirely until the crisis has died down.

Be prepared to ramp back up when the situation has stabilized. By planning ahead, your team will be ready to regain momentum once you turn campaigns back on.

The heart of the matter

As always, think of your key stakeholders first, and what they care about right now. Serve them as best you can by providing useful information through digital channels. Prioritize the well-being of your employees, and guide them through this experience with consistent, clear and transparent communication.

Kari Hernandez is the founder of INK Communications. A version of this post first ran on INK’s blog.

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