To say terms like “unprecedented times” are overused would be, well, an understatement. But how should we describe something like this? On the one hand, we yearn for things to be back to normal. On the other hand, I know I’m not quite ready to eat in a restaurant or work out at my gym. I even catch myself watching television and movies from the “BeforeTimes” (you know, like January) and thinking, “what are all those people doing packed in a football stadium like that?”
It seems like every day brings a new recommendation or bit of data. I’ll make this not-so-bold prediction — the way companies and organizations communicate with their constituencies has changed, and it’s not going back to how it was any time soon, if ever.
We’ve done quite a bit of work for many clients during the “crisis” stage of COVID-19, and any event that continues to kill thousands of people every day (as of May 28) is certainly still in crisis. At the same time, cities, counties and states around the country are in varying stages of re-opening, which calls for an entirely new set of communications in order to get back to “normal” while also protecting our collective health.
Moving forward, here are a few “new normals” companies and organizations may wish to consider communicating to employees, customers and their community:
- Be careful about being “tone deaf.” Moving forward will not be simply “flipping a switch.” While we don’t need to dwell in every sentence (see next point) we should also remember that many people were ill, many lost loved ones and thousands more missed major life events, like graduations or milestone birthdays or anniversaries. “Come on down for our giant Memorial Day Tent Sale” isn’t the right tone to set.
- On the other hand, COVID-19 doesn’t have to dominate every conversation. Like me, many of you are likely quite tired of nearly every commercial beginning with some variation of “we’re in this together” or “we’re here for you in these trying times.” I think nearly everyone gets that there’s something big going on, so tell me what you need to without the preamble. I’d like to know about your safety protocol or your shortened hours, but I’m well aware of why you’re doing this. Just tell me.
- Now more than ever — be flexible. As we’ve all experienced, things can look great one minute and unravel the next. Be prepared to change your communications content or tactics quickly, and maybe more than once. It’s important that we all move forward, but back-up and alternate plans are critical. Think of it like an outdoor event in the spring — you always have an indoor alternative or back-up date, and the COVID-19 storm is far from over.
In addition to tone, give careful consideration to the tools you’re using to get your message out. Here are a few considerations:
- Traditional PR tactics. While there’s lots of coverage, COVID-19 is taking an economic toll on media outlets. Reporters are being furloughed and laid off, so breaking through an understaffed attention span could be difficult. Also, remember the points above — make sure your news makes sense for what we’re all going through.
- Webinars. While you’ve no doubt been inundated with invitations, you’ve likely attended a few. If there’s a bright side to a global pandemic, you can now network in your pajamas. People are willing to click to hear what you have to say, but make sure the product is worthy of your organization. Tech issues, poor organization or other problems can do more harm than good. It’s worth bringing in help so you can focus on content while someone else produces a smooth experience.
- Social Media. No surprise, but social distances has meant increased social media. This article from the New York Times shows the spike in usage. If you’ve got a story to tell, there’s never been a better time to invest in social media.
- Email marketing. One of the most effective tools forever seems to be glossed over for the next shiny object, but tried-and-true email communication continues to be effective. While commercial email volume was down slightly in March of 2020, open rates were up nearly 20%. Be careful with your message, and email might be a great investment during the pandemic. Email can also be extremely effective when you have an important message that needs to get out immediately — like news about COVID-19.
One thing we know: just as there is no single right answer for communication in general, there is no magic bullet during COVID-19 either. Reaching your audience in this “new normal” requires planning and — more than ever — careful consideration.
If you’d like to try some new tactics, we’d be happy to brainstorm some ideas. We’re open (and socially distanced!) and ready to help.