By Heike Schubert
Slowly – some say too hastily – European countries including the UK, France and Germany are starting to ease lockdown restrictions.
The ‘Six Phases of the Disruption Life Cycle’ recently outlined by Allison+Partners communications professionals Tom Smith and David Wolf provided a useful guide on the key elements businesses must work through in of a period of crisis. We have just started coming out of the Command Phase (phase three) and are entering into the Recovery Phase (phase four). However, we are doing so tentatively – our governments are closely monitoring infection rates because we realistically cannot know the impact of eased lockdown measures until they are trialled. As we adjust to the ‘new normal’, minimising the spread of the virus, protecting people from it and taking care of those unwell will continue to be of the utmost importance.
In the near future, uncertainty will continue to characterise every aspect of our lives. In the UK, France and Germany, one thing is certain – we know society will be forever changed. COVID-19 has forced us all to slow down and reflect on what is working and what can be improved.
So, what does the ‘new normal’ look like? The discussions have already begun. We need to rethink how we live, work and travel. We need to consider how to better acknowledge the high value of people in health and social care, retail, education and more. And we need to better prioritise our personal lives, families and mental well-being. Perhaps, everything will change. Nothing is off the table right now.
From a communications perspective – we need to balance being cautious with being proactive in positive ways. Companies that are thinking innovatively and looking to solve problems that help people will succeed in generating positive brand awareness that they can carry into the future.
To be an effective communicator in the current environment, we recommend implementing three key steps:
1. Stay supportive – the threat isn’t over yet
Right now, it’s all about seeing the bigger picture and how your organisation fits into that. Ultimately, every group represents a small part of a huge and complex system. It’s all about supporting each other to stay functionable as well as working towards one major goal: avoiding the spread of the virus in order to save lives.
So, how can you support this overarching objective? Whether you’re reorganising a manufacturing site to produce life-saving ventilators or you’re pivoting to sew masks instead of making clothes – decide what it is you will do to show you’re committed to playing your part in helping people during the crisis. In doing so, you will be remembered for the responsible role you have taken in society. It is imperative that companies and organisations not only exist to be successful, but also act to do good and develop trust within their community.
2. Don’t brag about success – stay humble
The majority of people, companies and state institutions are currently facing a plethora of challenges, from unemployment, to salary cuts, to failing business operations. The states are struggling to stay ahead of the infection wave on one side and are trying to support individuals, companies and organisations on the other in order to minimise disruption to the economy, avoid widespread bankruptcy and mass poverty.
In many European countries, government loan schemes and the existing social security systems are supporting the people to buffer the worst effects. It’s an incredibly difficult time – many small businesses and jobs are reliant on financial assistance for their survival. Therefore, any communication where a company is highlighting how successful they have been under these circumstances is inappropriate. It’s even counterproductive as it labels the successful players as a kind of ‘war profiteer’ – someone who is capitilising on the pandemic, rather than sharing the burden and supporting others.
No doubt there will be entities that are successful during this time – for instance companies selling food and groceries or important medical devices. However, it is how these companies are offering and communicating their products and services that will make the difference. For instance, reducing prices, services for the elderly and vulnerable, charitable giving and clear ethical programs will help companies be remembered in a positive way. It is critical that these activities and engagements come from the heart and that companies act authentically and transparently to give people confidence in them.
3. Become part of the better tomorrow
To create a better tomorrow, organisations need to think about how their product, strategy and company culture are perceived now. They need to evaluate their role in the new normal, map out a plan and take action.
One organisation cannot solve every issue, but they can be really good at helping overcome one or two specific challenges close to home. Leaders need to review what products and services they sell and how they can do this better for people, the environment and the world.
If you have something to contribute – become a thought leader and have your say on what we can improve upon. Make sure your insights are valuable in the overall conversation and the aim of your communications is to explain how you are working towards a better tomorrow – not profiteering off the crisis.
The global pandemic is an opportunity to truly think and act globally. Together, we can all be a part of a better tomorrow.
Heike Schubert is a General Manager in our German A+P office.