When a crisis hits, it can be tempting for business leaders to bunker down and try to weather the storm. However, this approach rarely wins new customers or enhances the business reputation in the marketplace.
The best way to deal with an issue is through open and authentic communication, accessibility, and smart messaging. If you’re not used to dealing with issues regularly, then you’ll need a communications expert to help you get this right.
With the rapid impact of COVID-19 being felt across the globe, most business have been heavily impacted, forced to either suspend trading or stand down employees. Facing economic and social turmoil, businesses are scrambling to cut costs and limit the amount of job cuts needed to survive this global pandemic.
Even though, unlike most crisis situations, many businesses are in the same boat, this doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t deploy issue communications strategies. In fact, given that so many companies are experiencing similar hardships, audiences expect to hear from the organisations they do business with. Silence or mishandled communications in the current environment are likely to lead to lack of confidence.
However, this doesn’t mean you should jump the gun and rush to reassure the market with messages that haven’t been clearly strategised, well-considered, and carefully crafted. Your public relations (PR) firm, if you have one, should be able to help you navigate your important communications during this time. If you don’t have a PR firm, now is a good time to start working with one.
Here are five reasons you shouldn’t go it alone during issues management:
1. Shape the message
Communication can make or break your credibility, which took years to develop. One misinformed message or tone-deaf comment can instantly change public perception of your company. Even a mistimed photo on social media can cause people to start asking questions about your company’s positioning in a crisis.
Therefore, it’s essential that you provide timely and accurate information, while also working to dismiss misinformation. PR agencies will take your key messages and add in a human element to create a sense of relatability and avoid the perception that you are another faceless corporation. PR agencies will refine your key messages to be clear and appealing for the media, increasing the likelihood of your messaging being picked up.
Importantly, your PR firm will help you understand which messages not to send, preserving your brand credibility and authority.
2. Leverage contacts
In times of business uncertainty, you need to communicate in the most effective ways to reach as much of your target audience as you can, as quickly as possible. Working with a PR agency means you can leverage their extensive understanding of how the media works, leverage their extensive databases, and benefit from their pre-existing relationships with journalists.
Your PR agency will know how and whom to pitch stories or commentary to. And, due to their daily interactions with journalists, they’ll make sure your content is delivered via a familiar, reliable source, helping to ensure your message is received in a positive light.
3. Employee and stakeholder engagement
Employees and stakeholders such as investors, strategic suppliers, and contracted customers are critical to the success of your business so it’s essential to communicate effectively with them during an issue. Your PR agency should have internal communication and employee engagement strategies that will help to reassure all your stakeholders during a time of uncertainty.
In the case of COVID-19, where thousands of Australians are continuing to lose their jobs, it is important that you remain as transparent as possible, communicating frequently. The rapid evolution of this pandemic means that we have little insight into how this will unfold in the foreseeable future. PR teams can help craft a message that updates stakeholders and manages employee morale while ensuring that you don’t overcompensate and promise outcomes you may not be able to deliver.
4. Strategic advice and training
The professional communicators at your PR agency can provide strategic advice and insights that can help make the crisis more manageable. For example, the news headlines are currently dominated with information surrounding COVID-19. While you don’t want to comment on the pandemic unless you have something genuinely helpful to add, you must also be careful that you don’t ignore the issue completely. With the nation anxiously waiting to see how the pandemic will play out, business-as-usual sales and marketing tactics can come across as ignorant and ineffective. PR agencies can help you build positive exposure and generate new leads during this uncertain time to maintain business profitability as much as possible without crossing that line.
Your PR agency may also offer media training services. These are invaluable at any time but especially so in a crisis. Media training helps your spokespeople understand what media are looking for, how to deliver messages that journalists want, and how to handle direct media contact. In a crisis, every single word you say counts, so it is critical your spokespeople have been trained to stay on message while maintaining sensitivity.
5. Value for money
When managing an issue, often the first thing businesses will do is look to cut non-essential costs. Typically, decision-makers aim to cut external costs first, which can put communication services in the firing line. This is counterproductive because of the enormous benefit that PR agencies can provide during times of uncertainty. Unlike advertising, successful PR campaigns don’t need huge budgets to be effective, and they can demonstrate exceptional return on investment.
A carefully crafted PR strategy can stretch the marketing budget, delivering mentions in key publications at a fraction of the cost compared to a paid placement. These placements are also third-party endorsements and are therefore seen to be more reliable than a paid advertorial created by your company. Furthermore, by developing strong messaging for each of your audiences and delivering it via the most appropriate channels (including media, direct communications, etc.), PR can be more effective than advertising when it comes to nuanced, tailored messages.
During this challenging and uncertain time, PR can help manage your relationships with customers and stakeholders to communicate your business value, while ensuring sensitivity. PR services extend beyond traditional media relations and, when leveraged effectively, can help you effectively communicate to a range of stakeholders to minimise business disruption.
To learn about what services we offer and how we could help you navigate the current COVID-19 crisis, please get in touch.
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