As the crisis edges towards a new phase, so should your communications

Last Thursday Prime Minister Scott Morrison indicated lockdown measures could be eased in four weeks if three tests have been passed. The introduction of a timeframe, albeit a vague and heavily caveated one, is a sure sign we’re gravitating towards a new phase of the pandemic and communications should mirror this shift.

You won’t be surprised to hear COVID-19 has dominated conversations across news and social media the past few weeks, but the data suggests the peak for this trend has passed. Overall mentions across news and social media (globally) have dropped since the Easter break, whilst Google searches relating to the lockdown’s end are up +650% in the last seven days.

Simmering away alongside this is increasing anxiety about financial insecurity, evidenced by continued Google search dominance relating to JobKeeper, Centrelink and early access of Super. Recent research by pollsters Essential suggests health concerns are dwindling, whilst the economy and unemployment are now keeping Australians up at night above all else. This trend is particularly prominent with younger generations.

Lockdown fatigue is setting in, and while few desire a complete roll back of social distancing measures, expectations for a partial return of civil liberties in May are clearly growing.

A sound tactic that should be present in all effective communication plans is monitoring how conversations are evolving and making a pivot when the time is right.

Now would appear to be the right time, and whilst we’re on a theme of passing tests, any strategic moves should be carefully planned and pass three communication tests:

1)    Is the tone right?

2)    Is it realistic?

3)    Is it relevant?

1) Tone

Striking the right tone has never been more important than during the current crisis. As we argued last week, businesses that stop communicating altogether during a financial crisis take longer to recover. But with this imperative comes increased risk of a backlash if the tone is wrong, this goes for both internal and external communications.

Research by Edelman suggests 71% of people will lose their trust forever in businesses that put profit ahead of people at this time.

Externally, if you appear opportunistic and too sales focused, the backlash by the public can be severe, the social media invective brutal. Internally, if it’s devoid of empathy and fails to speak to the needs of employees, don’t expect enthusiasm in return.

2) Realistic

The term ‘exit strategy’ has crept into our lexicon, but this is a dangerous concept to be guiding your communication. It encourages people to consider life beyond the virus, which is unrealistic when there is yet no indications of a medical breakthrough. This period should be used for preparing a strategy and materials for realistic scenarios for the next phase so that you can react quickly to policy announcements.

Now is the time for listening and for conversation, for planning, for assessing what’s working and what’s not. We could be asking employees for their opinions on working from home, whether it’s preferable and more productive than the office. The reality is any lockdown easing in May will be minimal, but it could be enough to make a difference for those struggling mentally at home.

Until we have clarity as to which sectors will benefit from reduced lockdown measures, businesses should refrain from framing any external communication around a return to sales or business as usual and keep in mind that ‘usual’ may be very different to what it was previously.

3) Relevance

Questions you should have been asking yourselves throughout this crisis, which remain relevant for the next phase are:

  • Are your products or services more relevant than ever before?
  • Are your products as relevant as they were before?
  • Are your products less relevant than usual?
  • Are they not relevant at all?

For each category the focus should stay close to empathy and utility, but utility is absolutely critical for those who into the final two categories. How many of you reading this have received an out of the blue email from a company you don’t even remember making a booking with? Chances are you won’t even open it, and if curiosity got the better of you despite the avalanche of information bombarding your inboxes, you’d be pretty aggrieved if you didn’t find something genuinely useful or interesting.

If your business isn’t relevant at this time, there is a way to communicate.

Use this time to support suppliers, customers or good causes. You can be an informed set of eyes and direct your audience’s attention to your favourite brewery or restaurant trying to survive through a delivery service, the designer you outsource your creative work to who’s lost business, or the charities helping the most disadvantaged.

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher famously once said that ‘there is no such thing as society’. Take the opposite of that as true during this crisis and you’ll leave yourself in a strong position at the other end of the tunnel.

The UK has suffered more than most during the pandemic, one restaurant chain has proved particularly effective at communicating despite fitting into the least relevant category.

Read a recent email they sent out here.


Final word from our Culture Manager

The necessities of self-isolation have hit the globe with a pause button, a rare opportunity to switch gears and experience life a little differently. As an avid Instagrammer I’m always keeping an eye on the cultural zeitgeist. So, I thought I’d summarise some interesting self-isolation induced trends.

Baking – not only do Australians have a lot of time on their hands, they seem to have a lot of dough on their hands too. The inviting smell of baked goods is wafting through the streets (and through my Instagram feed). And in many ways, this is unsurprising. Recent research has illuminated the power of culinary therapy! The meditative effects that cooking and baking can have on a person have been recognised as a legitimate form of treatment for those suffering from mental health conditions.

Zoom – Zoom isn’t just the sound I make when I run to the kitchen for dinner, it’s also the virtual meeting channel that’s facilitating meetings and parties worldwide. Recently, iconic Australian comedian Hamish Blake has been sneaking his way into dozens of meetings, with participants secretly sending him meeting IDs so he can jump in and gently prank the attendees.

More pet time! – pets everywhere are quietly thrilled to have their owners spending more time at home. With ‘Quarantine Games’ trending on twitter, people are coming up with creative ways to keep engaged during self-isolation – and the best ones involve pets.

We have “cat cricket” – involving a cat defending a cardboard box from a ping pong ball…

And this remarkable pug stacking pringles.

Credit: (Twitter/mikewarburton)

Keep it up, pets of the world! You’re helping your humans through some challenging times!