How do you keep the relationship fires burning right now and communicate while also remaining calm?
Direct sellers are in an even more unique position during this challenging time. On one hand, we have significantly evolved as a channel in the digital age and many of those in our field can operate online and selling through social media for the foreseeable future.
They can keep their businesses growing while staying in touch with customers. On the other hand, direct selling is, at its heart, still about building personal relationships – and that is hard when we are quarantined and expected to keep a social distance of six feet.
Here are a few communications tips on when and what to communicate to your employees, customers, colleagues, friends, family and yes, even your independent sales force, when dealing with a fast moving and ever evolving crisis like COVID-19:
- As a public relations and crisis communications firm, we see a lot of organizations who want to wait to say anything until they know they have all the information and know the exact “right” thing to say. In a crisis, while of course getting the facts right is crucial, we also recommend not sacrificing the good for the perfect in an effort to communicate to your most important audiences and stakeholders. Those could be your customers, but it most certainly is your employees and perhaps your board of directors.
- First and foremost, it’s important to communicate early and often, even if you don’t have all of the details or don’t necessarily have substantive or numerous updates. The people, including your clients and employees, who trust you with their work and livelihood want to hear from you. Besides, in the absence of any information – even if it’s the same information slightly updated – they will fill the vacuum with rumors and speculation. That can cause fear and even panic.
- In times of crisis, it’s critical to reassure your audiences you’re aware of the situation, monitor for updates and then share any action you would like them to take. It’s always best to begin by reiterating that your priority is the safety and well-being of them and their families. Of course, your actions need to back up and support that sentiment.
How do you address what’s working and what’s not? Here are some tips on how to communicate accurately and with transparency:
- Tough times challenge our willingness to be open and transparent. The best brands and organizations are willing to share openly what’s working and what’s not. They are constantly soliciting for new ideas and solutions. Then, rewarding those suggestions – even if they’re not the right ones for the time – in order to generate a culture of openness and candor.
- The best leaders and companies are also willing to admit when they don’t know the answer to a question but commit to finding out or circling back when they do know – and then, of course, doing it. It’s far better to be honest upfront and to say, “I don’t know,” than to speculate and recant later. Trust is key.
Tough times challenge our willingness to be open and transparent. The best brands and organizations are willing to share openly what’s working and what’s not. They are constantly soliciting for new ideas and solutions.
Plan, plan and plan more. The best way to ensure you are communicating proactively in a real-time and ongoing crisis like COVID-19 is to begin planning for what’s around the next corner.
While it’s difficult to think ahead when your head is down during a crisis, we must. The best brands and organizations were considering and testing their business continuity plans and work from home systems 3-4 weeks ago. Now, if not very soon, is the time to begin thinking about the aftermath – what will the community, country and world look like following the crisis? How will your brand survive, rebound or thrive? Business continuity is one thing, but with the impact on the economy, many businesses will experience devastating impacts. How will your business tell its story when relief to this crisis arrives?
We need to communicate through the noise. Here are some suggested tools to help your message get through:
- In times of crisis, like now, it’s best to use multiple forms of communication. People have so much information coming to them so fast. If you want them to pay attention, consider email updates while also planning a weekly or biweekly conference call. Make people feel like you’re in touch and in tune with them, even if everyone is working from home or out of the office.
- Social media is also a great way to communicate with your customers, investors, and other key stakeholders who have a vested interest in your business. Video is always compelling – if it’s short.
You may be asking yourself; how do I respond if we get a call from a reporter?
- There should always be a plan for dealing with the media. A crisis is the time to test your media protocol and process. If you don’t have one, get one – ASAP. Think about who should always be the “center of the wheel” – one department or person assigned to working with the media. Everyone should know organization-wide that all media inquiries and outreach should run through that person or team. No exceptions.
- It’s critical that your messages to the media align with the messages you’re sending to your most important audiences – your customers, employees, leaders and board of directors. But the messages also must be customized for each audience while remaining consistent. It can seem disingenuous if you say the exact same thing with the exact same verbiage to all your stakeholders. And yet, consistency is key.
- When dealing with the media it’s also imperative to plan the key messages you want to relay. This is your organization’s opportunity to tell your story and put your best foot forward. It takes training and practice to learn how to answer a reporter’s questions thoughtfully while ensuring you’re only sharing the messages you’ve planned and practiced communicating.
Crayton Webb is the owner and CEO of Sunwest Communications, a Dallas, Texas based Public Relations and Public affairs first. Previously, He was the Vice President of Corporate Communications and Corporate Social Responsibility for Mary Kay, Inc.