HomeCorporate Social ResponsibilityCovid-19 Crisis Communications: Retaining Clients And Acquiring New Ones (Video)
Covid-19 Crisis Communications

Covid-19 Crisis Communications: Retaining Clients And Acquiring New Ones (Video)

The way companies communicate with their stakeholders influences the sales strategy of a business and ultimately can determine whether companies survive in this difficult environment or not. We spoke to Luffa Khnom-Ramsden, Senior Consultant at McOnie, a business to business communication agency, about Covid-19 crisis communications. Here are some key actionable insights from the discussion.

  • This crisis affects us all, no matter what walk of life we are from, so we all need reassurance at a time like this.
  • Consistent communication is at the heart of what businesses should be doing.
  • The messages you communicate to the different stakeholders will depend on their needs, but your communication should be consistent, regular and have an upbeat tone. Have a tailor-made communication strategy for each stakeholder.
  • Identify the channels your stakeholders are receptive to and communicate through them.
  • There will likely be serious financial consequences following the crisis and although markets go up and down, we will get through this.
  • Operate your business ethically and you will be remembered in a positive light. How you are handling this crisis will be remembered.
  • If clients need to cut budgets, then you should be agile, be flexible and be understanding, and they will come back to you once this is over.
  • If you can do pro bono work then do so. You will be remembered by how you act in this crisis and if you have the ability to help, then do.
  • Staying rigid is not an option so you should find ways to adapt your business if you can. This crisis will not last forever and you will need to still have a business to come back to at the end of it.
  • If you have to put employees in furlough, then continuing to engage with them is still really important, letting them know that there will be a job for them at the end of this crisis.

Here are Luffa’s full insights on Covid-19 crisis communications strategies:

The 2008 crisis affected the industry and many people were faced with having to decide whether to close down their business or not. This is similar to what is happening now, but the extra layer to today’s crisis is the isolation. People don’t have the option to go out and look for or do something else. There might be a long-term effect on employee mental wellbeing. What kind of things should managers have at the top of their agenda?

Luffa Khnom-Ramsden: Whether you are a manager or an employee, I think consistent communication is at the heart of what you should be doing. Reassuring all your employees and all the different stakeholders in your business. It could be a supplier, customer, shareholder – you should communicate with them on a regular basis, consistently. Having that regular pattern of communication, speaking regularly to all your stakeholders should be at the heart of what we recommend organisations should do.  Having a consistent level of communication will give stakeholders a level of reassurance because they too are going through the unknown. There is no blueprint. Something like this has never happened. The 2008 crisis has shattered businesses, this crisis threatens life.

What are the different categories of stakeholders and how do you communicate with each?

Luffa Khnom-Ramsden: The role of stakeholders will differ depending on the company and the sector you operate in. At McOnie, we work with some big organisations and in that scenario the stakeholders are vast. They go from top to bottom. The owners of the company, the shareholders, the financial markets will be hugely interested in the kind of work you are doing, as they are looking at human capital when deciding whether to invest in a proposition. So, managing your human capital and how you communicate with them is hugely important.

Employees are another type of stakeholder and they are your biggest asset. That is especially true if you are a service-based organisation and ensuring their wellbeing, their safety and security should be right at the very top of what you are doing.

Other stakeholders to communicate with are your suppliers and they also have businesses that they need to ensure will stay afloat and, if they are serving your organisation, they will want to know what is happening to their stream of business to give them reassurance.

There is no blueprint. Something like this has never happened. The 2008 crisis has shattered businesses, this crisis threatens life.

Your local community should also be factored in, whether that community is a small hub or a larger group of people. From a social perspective, it is also important to ensure that you are a company that is perceived as doing the right thing.

The messages you communicate to the different stakeholders will depend on their needs but the one key thing is that you should have consistent messaging across the board with all of them, you should have regular messaging across the board with all of them, so people will know when to expect messages. Also, have consistent messaging in terms of your tone, I think it’s really important to try and keep upbeat, try and keep positive because we will get through this.

Do companies that have put employees at the core of their business strategy and have support mechanisms in place already, have a better chance to deal with this situation?

Luffa Khnom-Ramsden: At McOnie, we do work with companies who are ahead of the curve, that have been consistently engaging with their employees and not just because of the crisis. They have been putting employee wellbeing at the heart of their businesses. Those organisations, in a crisis like this, devastating as it is, are not having to start from ground zero. They already have channels and mechanics in place that they can utilise, they don’t have to create such channels that they can leverage to communicate messages around the crisis to their audiences.

On the flip side, we do have other organisations where this has not been a trend and they have to work very quickly to create those channels, to create those mechanics so they can communicate with their various stakeholders. It’s a tough hill to climb and while they are doing well, perhaps those mechanics and channels should have been put into place earlier. It’s a learning opportunity for all of us and companies who did not have these channels, now do and will utilise them post Covid-19.

Another important type of stakeholders are shareholders, how do you communicate with them?

Luffa Khnom-Ramsden: Let’s face it, a good part of the news is dedicated to the economic fallout of the Covid-19. But the stock market thrives on the ups and downs, on the bears and the bulls. Though it felt like the financial world was going to end after 2008, we did recover. That’s the news that we should be communicating with the financial market, that we will be okay, we will get through this. The world has collapsed, there will be winners and losers, and there will be companies that will go bust. But on the flip side, there are companies that are doing incredibly well. The companies that are operating ethically will be the winners, and they will be remembered.

What channels can you use to reach your audiences?

Luffa Khnom-Ramsden: Having a tailor-made strategy based on your stakeholders is important. At McOnie, we don’t apply a one-size-fits-all strategy to any of our clients. So, we recommend taking back a step, identifying the channels that resonate well with your audience and using those. We are finding that everyone in our sector wants to talk about Covid-19. It’s about how you tell your story around Covid-19 without overtly pushing to sell. It is true that social media has gone crazy and the noise is absolutely deafening because everyone has an opinion. There is a huge amount of fake news out there, I got one the other day about how sitting in the sun gets rid of Covid-19. Having the right tone and message is important right now to cut through the noise around Covid-19.

The message that goes out there needs to tell the right story. It tells the stakeholder out there that there is a tomorrow. How do you keep clients right now, how do you engage with them, what compromises are companies making? Can anyone acquire new clients right now?

Luffa Khnom-Ramsden: From the communications agency point of view, I would say focus on your added value, on your skill-set. Focus on being able to be agile and proactive in such a crisis. It is possible to win new clients but how you tread this is very tricky. How you are handling this crisis will be remembered. If you are selling for the sake of selling, I would urge you to tread very carefully. The way you sell and the actions you take will define how you will be remembered.

Clients will remember the added value your company brought and they will come back to you. Behave ethically through this terrible environment and it will serve you well. If clients need to cut budgets, you have to agile in these situations, you have to demonstrate flexibility. Be flexible, be agile and be understanding. Once it’s over, it will all come back to you.

What about doing pro bono work?

Luffa Khnom-Ramsden: Personally, I am a big fan of pro bono work. If you have the bandwidth to do it, if your boss allows you to do it, then you should do it. It’s your opportunity to serve your country, if you are able to help people in an hour of need, regardless of what environment you are in, you should. If you are able to do some pro bono work for the greater good, then please try.

What about CSR? Should companies still allocate budgets for CSR? What kind of things should they look at?

Luffa Khnom-Ramsden: That is very subjective and it is down to each organisation. There are lots of CSR programmes out there and they deliver different things based on the objectives of the business the programmes were created for. But at the moment, everything is on pause. I think the world is on pause at the moment, so we shouldn’t judge companies if they cannot deliver their CSR programmes. If you can hit pause at the moment and not cancel your programmes altogether that is great. You will be remembered by how you act in this crisis and if you have the ability to help, then do.

The way you sell and the actions you take will define how you will be remembered. Clients will remember the added value your company brought and they will come back to you. Behave ethically through this terrible environment and it will serve you well.

We talked about employee engagement. What does your team do?

Luffa Khnom-Ramsden: It varies depending on the client. Engaging with employees has been at the very top of their agenda, ensuring wellbeing, safety and sanity. We are seeing with clients that have imposed the work from home rule, we are seeing that they are trying to keep contact with their employees. We are also doing that as an agency. We have daily updates, more frequently in some instances with all our employees.

It is good to talk and it helps to maintain a level of sanity in an isolating time for everyone. It’s really important for employers to reach out to their employees and let them know that this crisis is not forever. They should always be there for their employees to ensure that their wellbeing and mental health are maintained.

Do you feel all companies have the resources to do these things? What about small companies or startups?

Luffa Khnom-Ramsden: You have to lead from the top, even for the smallest companies. Engaging with your employees is not a big-ticket item. There are so many apps out there that allow you to have multiple people in a virtual room and talk to them. That doesn’t cost any money. Reassuring them from the top down I think is hugely important. No matter the age, having that level of reassurance and understanding from the top is a huge comfort.

If you have to put employees in furlough, then continuing to engage with them is still really important, letting them know that there will be a job for them at the end of this crisis. It is important to maintain positivity and reassure them that the world has not ended because they have been furloughed. And it should come from the top because you lead by example but the message needs to be consistent for everyone. The bottom line is we are all people and we need reassurance from everybody.

What are the things you have done in your business?

Luffa Khnom-Ramsden: We are on call for all our clients. We have made ourselves available for all our clients. We are all working from home but have set up web facilities. We all get together; we share and have a regular catch-up in the morning and in the evening and having that is reassuring.

A problem shared is a problem halved. We are trying to function as normally as possible. We are fortunate to live in this age where we can join a meeting from different locations. This has made staying in touch so much more viable.

Any examples from your clients in various industries?

Luffa Khnom-Ramsden: For some of our clients, we have written them an entire whole workflow and we have suggested how many times they should communicate with various stakeholders. We have suggested what the topic should be for each of those stakeholders and the regularity of communication. We have done this for some of our clients and they are adhering to it. And we recommend our clients to make use of all the available channels.

Can anyone pretend it is business as usual? Can companies keep selling as if nothing is going on?

Luffa Khnom-Ramsden: If it’s a new message then ethically that is not the best way to operate but we have to realise that when we see a holiday advert, though it might seem distasteful, we have to realise that the advert was booked and set up to be released months ago. There has to be an element of acceptance. Some companies will pull their ads from the TV or the radio, but it is very costly for other businesses, the cost could sink your business. This crisis is not forever, you still need to be out there saying the right things so that you have a business to go back to.

If you are selling on the back of this crisis and are benefitting from it, you will be remembered for that and it won’t be in a positive light at all.

What is the role of banks in this crisis? Is the way they are operating right now reassuring for anyone?

Luffa Khnom-Ramsden: My answer will be subjective. We paid for the financial crisis, we all felt it through austerity measures to try and bring the financial world back from the brink. Now the issue is on the other foot. It is time for banks to play their role in making sure the world still keeps going. The financial markets will bounce back, shares will go up and down. But people’s lives might not. Banks need to step up in this crisis, the same way we did in 2008. It’s their turn to help.

Should business pivot right now?

Luffa Khnom-Ramsden: If you are able to be agile as a company then you should be agile. If you can help your country, as crude as it sounds, then you should. If you can manufacture hand-sanitisers for example, even though you are in the gin industry. Printing companies are making visors for the NHS. If you are able to help then you should help because a) it is the right thing to do b) it is diversification in its truest form. Staying rigid is not an option and remember that the crisis it is not forever.

What is the future of the communication industry next year?

Luffa Khnom-Ramsden: A little bit shell-shocked, I think. But regular contact and reassurance are important. There is a lot of white noise out there and it is really important to have the right messages. I hope effective communication will shine out and I hope that the quality of communication will improve. That is a subjective view. I think the age of digital and the continuing growth will help that and the immediacy of the news keeps information fresh. We have to evolve like all other industries.

Watch the full webinar on Covid-19 Crisis Communications – keeping clients and acquiring new ones below:

Sara Klusch is a Junior Web Editor and Author at KindLink Global, covering all topics related to philanthropy.

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