How can we go about communicating during a crisis? What tone should we adopt? What messages? As we are all in a largely untested situation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, these questions and others are keeping a good number of entrepreneurs up at night.
First, the bad news. There is no magic formula. The good news? It's mostly about using your common sense.
We met with Emilie Tomasso, the founder of 3 Com-Médias and one of ToasterLAB experts, who explains the best practices when communicating during a crisis.
differentiate between 'crisis communications' and 'communicating in the context of a crisis'
As soon as our interview began, Emilie insisted on telling the difference between crisis communications* and communicating in the context of a crisis. "The current crisis is not about one particular company but about our societies throughout the world. What is at stake is not resolving the crisis related to your company's activity in order to preserve its image, but to continue to be visible in order to allow your activity to continue."
Communicating during a crisis period means communicating about "today", but above all preparing for "tomorrow".
During a crisis, it is tempting to stop communicating or to over-communicate. These are two obstacles to avoid at all costs, says Emilie, "you should especially not continue as if nothing has changed. Companies need to continue to address their ecosystems but they need to adapt to the context. And you should also avoid the appearance of opportunitism or overstatements."
*Crisis communications are the actions that companies put in place to combat the negative effects of an event (accident, pollution etc.) on the image of the company or its products. It requires fast decision-making and the mobilisation of significant resources, generally in a preventative scenario before the crisis gets out of control.
A few best practices
Stay true to yourself and your brand's DNA
The crisis should not dictate your communication. To stay coherent, respect the identity and values of your company, but adapt to the context.
Choose the right tempo…
You shouldn't be in too much of a hurry to start communicating, and you should talk about your brand when it makes sense to do so, when you have something to say. "It's better to reduce the quantity of your communications to make sure you are impactful and relevant," says Emilie.
…and the right message
Always think about the relevance (impact and tone) of the message that you want to get accross: talk about the solutions and the concepts, rather than promoting products. For example, avoid communications in the vein of "my product is best", favouring messages such as "if you can't come to us, we'll come to you."
Avoid being clumsy (and opportunistic)
Communicating during a period of crisis is not about exploiting the crisis. To remain credible and avoid bad buzz, stay transparent about your current situation, and explain how your company is adapting to the context and how you anticipate exiting the crisis.
Stay present by your partners' side
It is important to keep an open line with commercial partners (suppliers, producers, distributers, clients etc.) and your consumers in order to show that you are still present. You shouldn't disappear as it will be all the harder to regain your visibility. In a difficult context, staying visible reassures your partners and allows them to maintain a link and their trust in your brand.
Choose the right channels and the right moment
- Social networks allow for more frequent communications for your regular audience.
- Press releases should be less frequent and more detailed to gain new audiences via the media (for use when appropriate and in relation to a strong piece of news regarding your brand).
- Newsletters and blogs are useful for maintaining a connection, but you should adapt the frequency and the subject matter.
Don't forget the "post-crisis"
The key word here is anticipation. "The end of the crisis should be in preparation right now. How you communicate about the "after" period should also be about staying true to your identity. You should be able to say "tomorrow, here's what we will be doing'. You will need to take a step back and reinforce what was said during the crisis, but this will be the time to be less reassuring and be more about giving your vision and perspective to customers and partners and to meet the needs of a consumer who will be hyper-sensitised to issues such as consuming responsably and sustainably," says Emilie.
Emilie concludes with a final piece of advice: "Communicate less but better. Think about how to adapt your message so you are not out of step with the period or appearing opportunistic."
Find out more
Startups and growing SMEs, are you interested in connecting with ToasterLAB's experts? The good news is that we are currently taking applications until June 22nd, 2020, for the next intake of our acceleration program. Apply now here: https://toasterlab.vitagora.com/apply
Feel free to contact me to find out more about how we can help you get the right resources, knowledge and contacts to get your agri-food business off the ground: email@example.com.
By Claire VO
ToasterLAB Programme Manager, Claire "VO" is in charge of our start-ups' acceleration and post-acceleration. After 12 years with Vitagora, Claire's unparalleled knowledge of our network is put to good use while integrating our startups into the food business ecosystem! E-mail her at: firstname.lastname@example.org