On chaos communications, leading like JFK, and singing on balconies

Photo by Martin Widenka

“In a crisis, be aware of the danger-but recognise the opportunity”
–  John F. Kennedy

Who ever saw these strange, unknown times coming, friend? In amidst very real health scares (hello anyone with a parent over 70), travel bans and home-working – we haven’t even got to toilet paper – we’re all learning to navigate these uncertain times.

Years ago, when my brother had a life-changing accident, a close doctor friend told me “The human spirit is very resilient.” I’ve kept this close in difficult moments; it reminds me of the flashes of human extraordinariness we’re already seeing. The beautiful choruses of song and unity flooding Italian balconies. The applauses for Spanish healthcare workers.

Closer to home, I’ve been blown away by community. My son’s headmaster has shown such leadership, equanimity, boldness and empathy throughout the process, it’s like seeing flashes of JFK.  And I don’t say that lightly.

Crisis communications vs. chaos communications
For business leaders, urgency and uncertainty creates a new paradigm for communications. I had planned to deep-dive into crisis communications for this newsletter but we’re all taking on a lot of new information right now – you don’t need an overload today. Crisis comms is an entire process and a framework – if you’d like to discuss yours, I’m here.

Additionally, in crisis comms there’s an inflection point that your strategy comes leads from: as things change in minutes right now, it’s unclear where that lies. And, PS, crisis comms plans should be developed as part of preparedness, rather than reactivity.

Things are happening fast. But as agile, adaptable businesses ourselves, there’s an opportunity for us to step up and lead. For now, I’m calling this “chaos communications” and there’s a handful of simple guideposts for you below:

1. Over-communicate – with radical candour
I know. We’re looking to flatten the curve on the emails on organisation’s responses to Covid:19.  But clients need to know your position and how you’re managing the seismic shift,  the action you’re taking, and importantly, what it means for them. We’re don’t have the answers but we can communicate, communicate, communicate.

Let’s look for creative, sensitive ways to communicate during this difficult time. Now is also the time to be more human than ever. I’m already seeing posts about B2B and B2C merging to H2H – human to human. There’s something in that.

I loved Propercorn founder Cassandra Stavrou’s message to her team as a bit of a blueprint.

2. Use this time to deepen existing relationships
Times like this, having that direct line to your customers and audience is everything. I’ve already had queries from clients and colleagues about how they can boost their communications by building an email community. In coming weeks, your business may have more time to do this.

I’m grateful to have this as a way to connect and have candid conversations with you here and again, it cuts through the frenzy social media can whip up at times.

Slack and What’sApp groups are popping up too – let’s look at cultivating our peer to peer networks to share support too.

3. Brand behaviour matters
Remember when after BP’s Deepwater Horizon crisis when CEO Tony Hayward took a mid-crisis weekend sailing break? Don’t do that.

As businesses, we’re rightly being held to high standards of behaviour – communicating one story and behaving a totally different way is disastrous – it creates an authenticity gap. You simply don’t want that.

People first over growth-at-all-costs is always the better strategy. When everyday life returns, your clients and people will remember which businesses were inclusive, caring and responsible. Small things: a certain supermarket will have my loyalty for life as they agreed to hold on to some loo roll for my 76 year old mum with Parkinson’s.

4. Make sure your communications contribute
You want to leave your audience better than you found them: make sure your messages and communications are part of the solution your audience is looking for. We may not have the resources of Google or Microsoft to give away free conferencing resources but we can share our advice, our expertise, our creativity. Create supportive guides or downloads for clients, share how you’re leading your business with your industry peers, offer up a free webinar of IGTV.

5. Take the long-term view
As product and service launches are delayed in response to COVID-19, now’s the time to get ahead of the busy-ness defines so much communication. How can you tee your comms plans up now so that when things calm down, you’re more on top of your game than ever?  Stay strategic, keep engaging, remember that brand awareness takes time. Competition will be fierce on the other side of this. Keep showing up.

A clear voice, reassuring message and leadership is what will set your business apart in this. And maybe it’s the opportunity for us all to channel our inner JFK.

If you’d like to discuss your crisis communications needs then please pop me a line. Until next month, stay safe, take care of each other and keep showing up.

Antonia x