Coming into our own: comms in a crisis

by Charlotte Dimond

June 17 2020

For many communication professionals, the past twelve weeks will have seen them catapulted into a world of crisis communication.

 Organisations and their leaders are relying heavily on the advice and guidance that a strategic communications function can provide.

Be strategic
Organisations and businesses that have not previously valued the role of the communication team or viewed communication as a strategic management function may well have had a wake-up call and are now recognising the difference that good, strategic communication, can make.
When the COVID-19 pandemic swept the globe and country after country experienced devastating death tolls and changes to everyday life - with businesses closing, cities deserted and families kept apart - communicators have stepped up and kept the information flowing.
Communication professionals are working hard to keep their publics informed of changes such as new safety measures, as charities and businesses slowly reopen their doors. Communicators have the skills to listen, ask questions, gather the facts, read the public mood. As trusted advisers, we have translated these insights into strategic advice for leaders and clear, targeted messages that start good conversations with staff, service users, stakeholders and the general public. Our role as a strategic management function is needed now more than ever, as publics start to assess how organisations have handled this crisis.

Be joined-up
Internal communication has come into its own, this often overlooked discipline has stepped into the light to help employees address all the changes associated with closing venues, halting production or keeping going – think supermarkets and chemists. Reassuring messaging to worried employees has never been more important. 
Pre-empting the questions that people would ask: am I going to get paid, how will this affect my pension, what does this mean for holiday days, has enabled internal communicators to put together communication to employees that hopefully puts them at ease.
People will remember how they have been treated by their employer during this time, supporting teams will help to foster loyalty and build strong relationships.
It cannot be stressed enough how important it is for internal and external communication to be aligned. Many have focused on getting the internal messages right - the urgent need has necessitated this - but it is important to recognise that the lines between internal and external communication became blurred a long time ago. Any message to staff is quickly in the public domain and can impact on your reputation. We’ve all seen the letter making people redundant which lack any human tone or feeling. 
It is important for organisations to look outwards and talk to those who use their services, buy their products and benefit from their existence. 

Be human
Communication that is honest, helpful and human stands out. Many not for profit organisations have small teams and its easy to feel that your voice is lost in the noise, especially at the current time.
Telling stories has never been more important, talking about people, the impact you make on their lives, the real need for what you do and painting the picture of what life would be like if you weren’t able to continue doing what you do. Funders are recognising the need to be more flexible in their approach to delivering grants and awarding projects with funding, your honest and human stories will make a real difference here. 
Tell your story, share your experiences and communicate!

Charlotte Dimond is a Chartered PR Practitioner who has worked in the industry for more than 20 years. She is a director of Sidekick PR, an agency she set up four years ago with two fantastic women. She teaches strategic communication at Sheffield Hallam University and is a Trustee of a magical literary charity for children, Grimm and Co.