How to communicate during a pandemic

As billions of people around the globe try and establish how best to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, three fundamental factors are making communication with stakeholders difficult.

In an emotional cocktail of feeling threatened, uncertain and having a lack of control, people act first and think later. Around the world people have rushed to supermarkets emptying shelves, bulk buying toilet roll, baked beans, pasta and hand soap. At the time of writing the latest government advice is to self-isolate to slow the spread, presenting businesses with an ever-greater challenge to effectively communicate with its stakeholders as they decentralise.

There are two consistent themes in all communications at this time; transparency and compassion.

Internal Communications:

The most effective communications starts from within. Your employees are your brand ambassadors and so it's important that they are informed and know what’s going on. Communication should help to put their mind at ease; this will make external communications easier.

  • Communicate early and often. Even if the full extent of the situation is not yet clear. Say what you know.
  • Be compassionate. Try and see the situation through the lens of your employees to understand their anxieties.
  • Be open, honest and transparent to remain credible.
  • Demonstrate how and why decisions have been made, and what information you have used to make this decision (the latest government advice for example).
  • Let your employees know when they can expect a further update.
  • Keep the message succinct and straightforward to avoid confusion.

External Communications

  • External communication is different from internal. They are typically less frequent and messages are more refined.
  • In all messaging put people first.
  • Shape communications to focus on what’s important to your customer. For example British Airways reassured its customers by telling them they can change the destination and date of travel for free. BA also provided details of how it has increased its aircraft cleaning procedures.
  • Be open, honest and transparent to remain credible.
  • Be compassionate rather than focusing on sales messages.
  • Keep the message succinct and straightforward to avoid confusion.