AB Thinks  →  14th April 2020

Honesty, Consistency and Kindness – Crisis Comms Essentials

AB Thinks

As the world grappled with the onset of Covid-19, Katie brought together two crisis comms experts for a special edition of The Internal Comms Podcast.

Episode 5 of Season 3, recorded at short notice in March, examines the likely effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on professional communicators.

Katie’s guests for a socially distanced discussion were Sarah Pinch and Tamara Littleton, both of whom are skilled in reputation management, issues and crisis management.

Social media pioneer Tamara is the founder of The Social Element, leading a global team of more than 300, working with some of the world’s biggest brands to deliver consultancy-led social media services. As co-founder of Polpeo, she also helps brands prepare for crises through the use of simulation technology.

Sarah is managing director of Pinch Point Communications, which helps organisations build, maintain and sustain great reputations. She is also a past-president of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) in the UK, with a background in journalism and TV directing with the BBC.

Click here to play the full episode. Here are our top five takeaways from an important conversation.

#1 Look for positives
“Hopefully, one of the things that comes out of this is that more leaders in business recognise that you don’t need to be in the office five days a week, 12 hours a day. I’ve started to talk to our clients about how productivity and presenteeism are two very different things. There are many people who work in this industry with children; there are many people who do not know how they’re going to be able to organise their day. If there is one thing that comes out of this, as well as learning to be more technological about our solutions, hopefully it will be that we understand that people can be incredibly productive and not be in the office.”

#2 Be flexible and embrace real-life intrusions
“It’s important to be more accepting of the fact that kids are at home and people are trying to juggle work, entertainment, education and parenting, and to actually relax the rules a bit. I’ve always been a real stickler for if you’re going to be having a video team meeting with clients, control your surroundings, make sure that there aren’t dogs barking and things going on. And actually, I’ve gone backwards on that and said that it doesn’t matter. Embrace it. It doesn’t matter if someone’s sitting there with kids around, housemates whatever: everyone’s going through it, so be kind, but also reduce the workload. We don’t all have to work as much as perhaps we thought we did. There’s nothing like a pandemic to make you realise what’s really important. Perhaps some of the business-as-usual work can be put on hold while we focus on what’s really important: Are people safe? Have they got everything they need?”

#3 Be clear
“The key thing around crisis management is to establish the facts. There’s a lot of rumour going around, a lot of ‘friends of a doctor who said this’. We’re doing something internally where we’re having a daily company briefing where we’re sharing the facts that we’re aware of, that are coming from trusted sources, rather than just speculation and rumour, which just stresses people out. And then there’s stating your key intent, which is crucial for crisis comms: being clear what is the outcome you want, as a company. That could be any company. Taking my company as an example, we’re all about genuine human connection. We help brands have a genuine human connection, but it’s how we are as a team. So, I have to look after my team, and make sure they know that. And if that means changing the rules right now, I don’t really care, because it’s all about the future and that everyone is connected and safe. It’s also that our clients know that we’re there for them. I want to be here in the long run. I want my clients to know that we can do whatever they need. So we’re not trying to sell them something, we just say ‘let us know what you need, we’re here to help you. We’re open and ready for business’. Reassure clients, and then just help them.”

#4 Put your team first
“It’s like when you’re an aeroplane and the oxygen dips, and they tell you to take the mask, put it on yourself, and then you can help others. We’ve taken that philosophy: if my team is in a good place, everything else will be fine; we’ll be able to look after our clients and be more supportive. So my priority was team first, then client reassurance. But that’s not just saying, ‘everything’s fine, we’re business as usual, we can keep going’, because actually it’s not business as usual, even if, functionally, technically everything’s fine, because some of my team might get ill. So really, it’s about transparency; to be able to inform clients that this is where we are, everything is okay now, and these are the measures that we put in place. You need to be realistic when things are changing on a daily basis. Clients need that reassurance from us, what have we got in place, so they can just crack on.”

#5 Be honest and consistent
“My golden rules are be consistent and if you can’t answer a question you don’t know, don’t make it up. I know that sounds so obvious, but companies sometimes are so desperate to look like they know the answer to everything, they start making stuff up on the spot. Also, being human and saying sorry, if it’s appropriate. There is not one single case in English or Welsh law where an organisation has had a worse time because they’ve said sorry.”

AB’s special microsite – Stay Connected 2020 – has useful resources and new services to give IC practitioners worldwide a helping hand. Please ask about our special rates and pro bono services for public sector and not-for-profit organisations.