It’s tentative, but the UK has set a course to return from lockdown. Everyone seems to agree how vital it will be for businesses to communicate clearly – to employees and customers – as people edge back to work following the Coronavirus lockdown.
The derision, confusion and fear which has accompanied the UK government’s change in messaging from Stay Safe to Stay Alert is testament to that.
Most business owners are not professional communicators. We have written this guide to help business owners and directors understand how to ensure their own route out of lockdown is well understood.
Bear these four factors in mind. They are true of every campaign you undertake, whether it’s a multi-dimensional marketing initiative or a simple memo to staff. These factors are always important, but even more so now in the return from lockdown, when the key emotional response you want from your communication is reassurance.
- Understand your stakeholders
Do you truly understand how your stakeholders (members of staff and their families, customers, neighbours) are feeling and what they need to hear? If you have been an effective leader, you will have been keeping in touch with them through the crisis (even if they’ve been furloughed) so that they are primed for your reopening and emotionally-ready to respond. If not, start talking to them now, ask their opinions, value their contributions before you launch a back to work campaign on them.
This includes knowing what features of the past few weeks have worked well for them as well as what has been difficult. It may well be that your relaunch integrates many of the changed business practices and priorities you’ve identified.
- Clear Messaging
People want to know what you are doing, what you are asking them to do and what steps you are taking to ensure their safety. Rigorously and repeatedly ask yourself: do the words and images I use get this across clearly to the people who need to act on it.
And communications also need to fit your company culture, the kind of business you are. That’s what sets the tone for your message.
Now is not the time for clever, gimmicky and above-all opportunistic marketing or employee engagement campaigns.
- The right channels
Once you’ve defined what you need to say, the next step is to use the right channels to get the message out to your stakeholder group. If you understand who they are and what type of communications they prefer, you have a head start (which is why stage one is so vital).
The way you communicate with people now may become an intrinsic part of how you and they keep communicating with one another. We can all expect fewer face-to-face communications and, we hope, fewer e-mails, so investigate what are the most effective ways to engage in the dialogue you need. For example, some employees want to see leadership, so that online briefing or CEO video might be just what’s needed; others will want to know their views are heard, so a Zoom meeting, cascade briefing or employee survey may fit the bill.
- The right timing
Lastly, timing is everything. We are all groping our way in the dark a little here, so don’t be afraid to admit that. You may have staff eager and desperate to return to work, itching for you to fire the starting gun and get the business up and running. I’m sure you’ve done all you can to welcome them back: you have secured extra PPE, rejigged the office to ensure social distancing, staggered their start times and taken all the other measures you need to ensure they can work safely.
But if they work remotely at customer sites, you will need to know the customer is ready to receive them, with all the safety measures in place their end too. If customers come to you, you need to communicate clearly when you will be open and understand whether the customers are ready to buy from you. For instance, if I’m working from home long term, I may not need to upgrade the car just yet because my annual mileage has just been halved. So, the car dealership throwing a virtual relaunch party and marketing me to book a test drive might not be appropriate at the moment.
I’ve said we face a lot of unknowns, which is why it is also so vital to keep communications flowing and operations flexible. The government has already said it may rein in the lockdown freedoms if cases start to rise again. Does your return from lockdown allow for this? Businesses that keep their communications flexed to the government’s messages will be better preparing their staff and customers for what could still be several rocky months.
Don’t try this at home
Communications is far more than great writing, but ultimately, all that communications planning must be expressed in words and pictures. So, whatever your communications medium, ensure you employ a professional copywriter.
A good writer and art director will turn your brief, with its messages and strategies, into persuasive items of communication. A script for the MD’s video briefing, a customer newsletter, a blog, a magazine feature and a Yammer message may need to convey the same information but each requires a different approach. In all probability, your communications will require several of these items and more. Anyone wanting more advice on communications strategy or copywriting in these these complex times can simply contact us here at 360 integrated PR. We’re fast, flexible and able to help.