The big question: Do I need to communicate my business when the world is shutting down?

The short answer: No. Not if this pandemic has beaten you and you are calling it quits.

However, if you are planning to move along with your business, then you probably have a continuity plan in place (or you need to develop one urgently) to counter the obstacles that the Covid-19 pandemic has inadvertently created, and you need to communicate this plan. Then you need to communicate how you are acting on this plan. You need to communicate with people who matter to your business, on how they are part of your plan.

In other words if you intend to keep selling to a consumer, then you need to communicate clearly that you are open for business, that you have products or services that they need now or will need in the immediate future, and that you have a plan of how you will deliver it to them, safely, while keeping your employees and partners safe.

This is a form of crisis communications within risk management and in light of our current situation, I am calling it PRCC (pronounced prick) – pandemic recovery crisis communications.

Now that you have gotten over the shock of the Covid-19 destruction to lives and economy, it is time to gather your team and ramp up operations and communications.

The bad news is that the people whom you generally deal with can’t meet you. Call it quarantine, restricted movement, lockdown – it all means the same – your typical freedom to cultivate relations has been curbed by a new police in town, #SocialDistancing. Media are working remotely, vendors are immobile, logistics are chaotic, supplies are stuck at ports, shops are closed; all resulting from actions to contain the spread of the virus and keep people safe and healthy. You feel like a hapless soul.

The good news is that you are not in this alone. The entire world is stuck in a whirlpool of uncertainty and this is the time to share best practices with one another on how to circumvent regular processes with new ways of operating. The other good news is that today’s business couldn’t be luckier in terms of marketing and communications.

Technology has set us up to deal with this business obstruction head on. You just need to reengineer the way you do business and that goes for your public relations.

Technology Will Save Your Business

This 21st century pandemic has not chained you to the traditional mediums of telephone and fax when doing business remotely. Today, technology has provided some seamless opportunities to quickly migrate your business to digitised operations such as:

  • E-platforms that have created safe and tried havens to do business outside your bricks & mortar operations. Today you do not even have to build your own process from scratch, as you can piggyback on existing ones that work best for your business like Lazada, Shopify, Rakuten and Amazon.
  • The recent surge in easy-to-use e-wallet apps, such as Big Pay, Boost, Touch ‘n Go, WeChatPay and Alipay that have already become lifestyle accessories, make it effortless to securely transact with suppliers, vendors, financial services and customers from anywhere and at anytime.
  • Widely available delivery companies, covering a wide range of logistics services have come in over the last five years delivering everything from food to medicines, computers to furniture from the traditional DHL, FedEx and UPS to Grab, Lalamove, Postmates, Dolly and BigBasket.

Once you have sorted your operations and are now ready to communicate with your audiences, technology once again comes to the rescue with:

  • Social communication platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, WhatsApp and Telegram to engage with stakeholders from media to customers to educate, inform, sell and share.
  • Interactive web-based tools such as Google Meet, Hangout, Zoom and Skype are acceptable forms to ‘meet’ vendors, suppliers, partners, even media and bloggers to collaborate, discuss and explain.

Change It Up!

So you may not be able to have a large rah rah event to launch a new car or workshops to educate resellers on your new baby product, or a press conference to announce your new corporate direction.

Change it up! Use animations, video, infographics, online interactive platforms that will get you even closer to your stakeholders.

This is a chance to actually know who you are doing business with and why someone is interested in your brand.

Without the distraction of mass, one-size-fits-all style of communicating, you can now actually put a face and name to the media and blogger you have been engaging with. This will give you the opportunity to work with writers to customise stories suitable to their publications or sites. The new norm must be about quality coverage instead of counting the number of clips your PR agency secures.

Show Empathy Internally

As in any crisis communications, the biggest hurdle in engaging with stakeholders with new forms and formats, and in light of the avalanche of fake information freely viralised, will be securing the trust of people whom you identify as your target audience.

Start reestablishing this trust first with your closest and most important audience – your people. Educate your employees on safety and health issues – communicate clearly health benefits in place and how they can access it. Communicate with them on new ways of working to remain valuable and effective to the organisation. Show them they matter.

Create Trust and Acceptance Externally

Be transparent if there is a problem – an employee has tested positive to Covid; delays in delivery; shortage of supply; cancelled activities / events. Develop possible scenarios and actions plans, also statements that can be customised.

In being transparent, remember to ensure that you have created channels for direct communications using the apps and platforms mentioned above and beef up your customer care lines – retrain your frontliners to be more mindful in dealing with impatient, angry and stressed customers. This is the time to build loyalty amongst your customers. So show them you care.

Your target audience whom you already have a relationship with need to hear from you and your must maintain communications, even if your business has ground to a halt like the travel and tourism industry. This is the time to show customers that you respect their patronage with relevant refunds, flexibilities in rescheduling, customised changes.

If you choose to maintain radio silence, you will lose your customers and partners.

Ensure that your spokespersons recondition the way they communicate by being more human, emphatic, reassuring, confident and sensitive. This is a great time for leaders who tend to lead from the background to step forward and take charge of the organisation and brand’s personality. Show them who you are.

Be Caring, Gain Respect

This pandemic strangely enough has also provided us with a big red RESET button. It is allowing businesses around the globe to sit back, take a breather and reassess their organisation’s mission and core brand values.

Leaders are being given a chance card to decide if they will go back to the old ways of doing things or to press that red button that will redefine who they are as a company and brand of the future.

The two areas that the new generation of consumers are looking for in a brand to trust, is one that looks inwards at its cultural ethics and wellbeing of its own people, and outwards in embracing communities and the environment. If your brand has struggled to effectively deliver on these values, then you have the greatest opportunity today to make a change. Show them why you are different.

Transfer a portion of your marketing budget or resources into giving back during this pandemic by:

  • donating to help boost national healthcare, provide for the poor and destitute, bolster business communities or cottage industries in your area that are badly hit
  • migrating parts of manufacturing facilities toward producing items greatly needed such as sanitising products, protective gear, hospital equipment
  • dedicating buildings and products to support essential service front-liners with lodging, transport, communication equipment
  • giving your time to share your skills or expertise with people who may benefit and learn something new

These are worthwhile actions that translate into feel-good communications and in these trying times, people appreciate such selfless acts and will willingly share such news. By embracing your role as a corporate citizen or an individual who cares, you will find yourself with new followers and may even grow your business with carefully crafted messaging to suit your actions.

Enough said. Whether you are a B2B, B2C or B2M organisation, the first rule of business is to stay in business. Stay quiet and you will survive; communicate and engage and you will succeed.

In the next PRCC article, I will share a collection of examples of local and international organisations and individuals who have taken communications to new levels during this pandemic.

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Written by Janitha Sukumaran, Founder of Rantau Golin, a public relations agency that has helped numerous companies manage crisis over the last 28 years