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No ostriches here: Communication during crisis

Louise Hill

Half of Brits are noticing brands more during lockdown - now is not the time to bury your head in the sand according to Quill's Louise Hill.

May 2020

The crisis that has hit every aspect of our day-to-day lives brings with it a plethora of problems. Whether it is as crucial as working out how best to care for vulnerable family or friends, or simply considering how ‘home office’ appropriate the background to your Zoom calls are, these are problems I bet none of us have spent time preparing for.

The problems are amplified for businesses. With no certainty as to how long this crisis will last, nor how the world will look when we eventually emerge on the other side, forward planning seems almost impossible.

What is within our power, and all we can currently control, is how we react to the frankly unnerving situation we now found ourselves in.

For businesses, it is important to rise above the noise and continue business as ‘unusual’ as far as you are able. It also means letting people know how Coronavirus is affecting you and your team, what the impact could be on clients and customers, and what your new working conditions are.

Communication, as the saying goes, is key.

Now is not the time to hide away

The public are not holding back in their judgement of how businesses act during the crisis – and communication plays a huge part in shaping perceptions.

Three in five (61%) people surveyed by Censuswide in April agreed that they care more about how brands are behaving now than they did before the Covid-19 outbreak, and 68% said they thought it was important for brands to spread positive news.

What was even more stark was that almost half (48%) of Brits said they would trust a brand less if it ignored what was happening and did not communicate about Covid-19 at all.

Clients and customers are, however consciously, noting how your brand interacts during the crisis and ongoing public lock down. It is not the time to stop interacting, to hide away and hope for normality to return.

Now is the time to be going out there with strong messaging and following through with action.

It is arguably the best time to get your message out there and do some good. With more people watching and reading the news, around half (48%) have said they are noticing brand news more. Businesses need to be trying to be part of this ‘new normal’, not stepping back from it.

The tide can turn quickly

You need only look at Sports Direct to see how rapidly public attitudes can turn. After boss Mike Ashley announced in late March that its stores would remain open despite lockdown, YouGov polling found the company’s UK index score – a measure of the overall brand health – fell from 1.1 to -18.4 in just a week.

Its reputation (already low, only hitting -10 at its peak over the previous year according to YouGov) fell drastically, from -17.8 to -46.3 over the same one-week period.

True, this is more a sign of poor judgement from a brand that has courted controversy in the past than a lack of communication, but it shows just how quickly poor messaging and output from a business can drag on the public’s perception – particularly when it comes to something as emotive as the nation’s health. The public are unwilling to give you the benefit of the doubt when lives are at stake.

Offer the answers

Everyone is looking for answers, and often looking to the brands and companies they interact with to provide them. Rather than burying your head in the proverbial sand, it is crucial to stay in contact. Explain what is happening, and how you are dealing with it. It is even better if you can be proactive and positive in your engagement. Have you involved the business in any charity or community efforts? How have you reached out to customers to help them if they are feeling vulnerable?

It may be something as simple as a scheme to boost your remote-working office’s moral, or as straightforward as making charitable donations, what is important is that you keep people informed and, better yet, spread some much needed cheer and goodwill in these anxious months.