COVID communications conundrums
Joanna James provides some practical recommendations for business owners to communicate effectively to stakeholders as the country hopefully moves to Alert Level 2. As each day passes where New Zealand businesses are either unable to operate, or with heavy restrictions, more Kiwis are hurting. It’s been uplifting to see that our largely small business nation, […]
Joanna James provides some practical recommendations for business owners to communicate effectively to stakeholders as the country hopefully moves to Alert Level 2.
As each day passes where New Zealand businesses are either unable to operate, or with heavy restrictions, more Kiwis are hurting.
It’s been uplifting to see that our largely small business nation, as well as Kiwi consumers, have instinctively understood the need to support each other for the recovery of our economy.
In recent weeks, we’ve had many conversations with small business owners who don’t have in-house communications resource and have been grappling with how and when to communicate important news, both the good and the ugly.
Here are a few of the communications tips we’ve been sharing with business leaders and owners:
- More than ever before, all your communications, both external and internal, needs to hit the right tone.
Demonstrating empathy and authenticity is crucial right now. It’s a balance, but you can show you care, without appearing opportunistic. Has your business been supporting your community? Or negotiated win-win terms within your supply chain? Let your stakeholders know what’s driven your decision.
Recognising the critical role it plays in transporting essential service passengers, Fullers360 provides free ferry services to the Waiheke community during Alert Levels 3 and 4, and have been clearly communicating updates to residents.
As New Zealanders start to think about their local holiday plans heading into Level 2, Fullers360 will no doubt start to see the benefits of Kiwis holidaying at home, but in the meantime, their stakeholders have seen the company’s actions guided by doing the right thing for the Waiheke community.
- Ask your audiences what they want to hear from you.
Seems like a no-brainer, but even the gesture of asking your audiences inside and outside the business what, and how often, they’d like to hear from you during this time of information overload will be appreciated.
The most effective way to do this is via an audit to identify what’s most important to your stakeholders right now. This allows you to check if your communications approach needs revising, or if there are new tools or channels where your audience would prefer to hear from you.
- If you have difficult information to communicate, always share it with your people first.
All businesses are having to make tough decisions, and economic predictions suggest there will be many more hard calls to make for business owners. If you’ve got difficult news, always share it with your people first and give them the respect and space to absorb it before you hit send on that media release. The last thing they need is friends asking them how they are when an announcement impacting them has barely sunk in.
When German-owned Bauer Media suddenly shut the doors of its New Zealand arm last month, its 300 staff were asked to attend a 9am Zoom call to be told of the immediate closure. An editor from one of Bauer’s biggest titles told me they had no idea that was the news they’d be getting that morning. Bauer was home to some of our country’s brightest journalism and creative talent, and the staff deserved better from their employer.
- Exercise sensitivity when timing your news, but don’t freeze any business announcements.
Globally, media consumption across the board has increased. In New Zealand. While advertising revenue may be down, newsrooms have never been busier with new COVID-19 media opportunities and new avenues to tell your story, such as Rebuilding Paradise with Paul Henry and the Bosses in Lockdown podcast series, hosted by Newstalk ZB’s Heather du Plessis-Allan.
Yes, think about how to adapt your announcement and its timing, but don’t shy away from sharing it. Kiwis are all at the point now where we want to see examples of business continuity and success, it gives us hope and brings us closer to the economic regeneration we all want to get to.
- People are turning to their employers for information.
We’re being inundated with information, but research is telling us it is employers that people want to hear from about the state of their business, what’s being done to help keep them safe and maintain continuity with their jobs and performance.
New data from Forrester’s PandemicEX survey found people trusted their employers as a source of information about COVID-19 and coronavirus more than they trust governments and social media.
While our own Prime Minister’s COVID-19 communications has been heralded as a masterclass in how to communicate, New Zealand business owners need to be sharing regular and transparent updates with their teams.
In its latest report, ASB economists have predicted that unemployment could approach nine percent this year. Every day, there’s a new version of the unemployment prediction story and these stories won’t be helping with anxiety levels.
Your people want to hear from you on how business is faring. Even if it’s less than rosy, they’ll respect your honesty and your willingness to engage with them. If they understand the part they can play in helping your business through COVID-19, there’s every chance they’ll be more willing to put in the hard yards alongside you.
- Find ways to keep morale high.
Love or loathe it, video conferencing has become our new work norm, but it’s just as important to use it to keep your team’s spirits high with casual catch ups and happy hours. How can you spice up your team video calls and book in calls where you don’t talk about work?
Australian comedian Hamish Blake has invited workers to share their Zoom call links so he can “gatecrash” video conferences. It’s one of my lockdown highlights, although he’s yet to respond to my invite to our team Friday drinks. I live in hope!
If you’ve been wondering about how you can improve your communications as we head out of lockdown, I hope this provokes some ideas about what you can put in place or change to ensure you’re communicating effectively.
Joanna James (pictured) is an Executive Director at integrated communications and marketing agency Anthem.