Communicating in the Age of Coronavirus – Tips and Techniques for Managing Staff, Customers and Stakeholders

Communicating in the Age of Coronavirus – Tips and Techniques for Managing Staff, Customers and Stakeholders

The speed and reach of the Coronavirus crisis will be felt for decades. While we are all struggling to assess the impact on us personally, we also have organisations that have obligations and responsibilities to staff, customers and other stakeholders.

Establishing and maintaining clear lines of communication with these stakeholders is one of the most important roles of leadership and management during this crisis. Conveying a sense of calm and control will position your business to return to normal as quickly as possible when (not if) the crisis ends.

Here are some simple things to remember while communicating.

Health & Wellbeing Is Your First Priority

While the long-term economic impact of the crisis is occupying a great deal of people’s thoughts, we are still in the middle of a major, global health emergency. Your first obligation is to create a safe workplace. The number of cases of COVID-19 in Australia is still rising and we must do everything possible to reduce the spread to save lives. ‘Flattening the curve’ is our collective responsibility.

Until we have the virus under control, all your actions and communications with stakeholders MUST put health and wellbeing first. Always provide the information and resources your stakeholders need to meet their social obligations to stopping Coronavirus.  

Don’t be an Expert

The Federal Government, State Government and health authorities are moving quickly to provide detailed, authorative information about Coronavirus to the public. Do not rely on your own experts, your ‘sister’s brother who is a GP’ is not an expert. When advising staff and customers about how to respond to the crisis utilise the range of free information available.

Be Positive

Don’t be afraid to remind your stakeholders that there are still positives. The virus is under control in many countries and Australia has a strong, resilient economy with the capacity to absorb even the biggest shock.

The current health crisis is TEMPORARY, and we are days or weeks from getting on top of it. People need reminding that there are reasons to be optimistic so don’t be afraid to talk up your recent successes or the underlying strength of your industry.

Coronavirus: Ten reasons why you ought not to panic

Communicate Regularly

The situation is changing on a daily basis. The last thing your stakeholders need is an information vacuum, which they will fill with information from unreliable sources and their imagination.

Create the systems, processes and disciplines to communicate on a daily (or twice daily) basis. Send an email to staff at the same time each day, either first thing in the morning or at 5.00pm each evening. Assign responsibility and make sure this communication comes from a trusted, senior executive who has the primary responsibility for managing the crisis.

Create a Dedicated Blog or Webpage

This crisis could go on for weeks or months. Creating a dedicated ‘warehouse’ where you can host and share information is one way to bring some order to the chaos. In a quickly moving situation, having a centralised location where updates and the latest information can be compiled is key to avoiding confusion. Many organisations have already created landing pages dedicated to providing information about the coronavirus and their mitigation efforts. 

We recommend that clients place a link to this dedicated page on the homepage of their website. Key information to include on the page: 

  • Information about whether or not any of your employees or locations have been exposed to the virus. While you should not identify employees, it is important to communicate whether there are any active or monitored cases tied to your organisation or facilities. 
  • Details about your contingency plans. If you serve clients in-person, include information about whether your locations are open or not and how you will or will not serve clients if you close. 
  • Preventative measures that are underway. If your organisation is encouraging employees to work from home, reduce nonessential travel, implement additional cleaning procedures or take any other precautions to minimise the risk of exposure, share these details. 
  • Links to external resources like those listed above.
  • A statement that the webpage reflects the situation as it currently stands and as this is a rapidly evolving situation, your organisation will continue to evaluate the best course of action and update the page with the latest information as it is available. 
  • Contact information for your primary media spokesperson and leadership team member overseeing Coronavirus preparedness. 

Equip Your Staff

Successful communication starts with employees and internal stakeholders. They are always your best public relations people, and public relations people always do best with a good briefing.

Now is the time for CEOs and top executives to communicate with employees and stakeholders and reassure them by stating the steps the organisation is taking. He/she should record an organic (not highly produced) 60-second video—on a current model smart phone­—describing the current state of affairs, steps being taken (to disinfect surfaces and protect people), what is planned next and why.

This video can supplement such written communications as direct mail pieces, emails, texts, and social posts.

Assign People to Create Content

You should quickly appoint a dedicated person or team to take charge of creating and updating your response content, including fact sheets, media statements, Q&As and EDMs

In a rapidly changing environment, it is vitally important all your communication is time stamped. What is true now, may not be tomorrow, so treat all communication as a ‘point in time’ exercise. 

Don’t fuss too much about style guides or templates. Your stakeholders will forgive you if your documents are not up to your usual high standards of design and presentation. It is the substance that matters. It is OK to compromise on these to ensure timely and consistent communication.

 

Prepare for Media Enquiries

Consider the immediate development of media statements for key events/risks that you may be faced with. These statements can be provided to media who make an enquiry, be posted on your website and social media channels. They are important too for your employees and other stakeholders.

Consider the communications needed for the closure of an office or facility, staff member(s) contracting the illness, or unavailability of a key product or service.

Clear communication is necessary, as is the provision of updates as required. Ensure consistency in the nominated spokesperson and tone of voice.

Be Reactive and Engaged on Social Media

In the confusion of managing a business during a crisis, some of the simple things often get forgotten. Monitoring and responding to social media enquiries is sometimes the first victim of threat assessment.

It’s vital that your team are focused on social monitoring during a time of crisis. Any negative social media mentions should be dealt with immediately and with consistency. Any questions should be answered quickly and respectfully. There should be sections of your plan dedicated solely to social media crisis management.

We are all entering a new world, but many of the old rules for effective communication remain. Be open, honest and proactive. Your stakeholders will reward you for it.

Stall Wars: A New Hype - COVID-19

Stall Wars: A New Hype – The Great Australian Coronavirus Toilet Paper Panic

Australia’s lack of toilet paper has made headlines this week thanks to the COVID-19 Coronavirus, with frenzied shoppers fighting (literally) for the last remaining packs of dunny rolls in some sort of feverish, dystopian battle royale.

Coronavirus refers to a family of virus that contain the common cold, bronchitis and other respiratory infections including SARS. What makes COVID-19 hazardous is it’s ability to transfer from animals to humans, it’s ability to mutate rapidly, and that no vaccine exists for it at present.

What COVID-19 doesn’t do is cause spectacular, prolonged bouts of diarrhoea that would necessitate the need for the entire country to go out and buy their bodyweight in toilet paper.

Why are people stocking up on toilet paper?

Due to our reliance on overseas production of literally everything, pandemic lockdowns have had significant impacts on supply chains worldwide. Uninformed masses picked up on a Hong Kong based political journalist that reported that toilet paper supply would be affected. Now we all get to experience the absolute depths of human depravity in an aisle designed to clean up our undesirable actions.

 

Should you stock up on toilet paper too?

No. Obviously if you’ve run out at home, you’re probably 💩 out of luck now, but there is no point in committing to a selfish bulk buy. Only 40% of our toilet paper is imported from overseas, but for those of us who care about what we wipe our bums with, Kimberly-Clark (Kleenex) has Australian manufacturing facility with ample supply and 24-hour manufacturing.

Kleenex Employees

Selfie from a Kimberly-Clark worker in their warehouse.

Why all the hype?

We are social creatures, and a crisis like this (perpetuated by the media and the government’s insistence on multiple daily press conferences) is prompting the most anti-social behaviour in recent memory. Fear of missing out (FOMO) due to a supply:demand imbalance is a key motivator for any kind of hype. After all, nobody wants to resort to using a sock or ice-cold bidet.

It goes without saying that we have a herd mentality when it comes to objects or concepts that we as a community deem desirable, from necessities like toilet paper, to novelty or luxury items like handbags or shiny precious metals, even intangible things like intellectual property or cryptocurrency (or fiat currency for that matter).

Tulip Mania

Hype doesn’t stop – or start – with toilet paper, the earliest noteworthy instance of baseless stock shortfall triggering this kind of panic was “Tulip Mania”. Tulip Mania was a dark time in 17th Century Holland where the humble tulip flower was the must-have item to prove your social status – or what the kids nowadays call clout.

Tulip bulbs fetched nearly 10 times a person’s annual salary at their peak, and due to scarcity the resale market was the primary cause of skyrocketing prices. Tulips take nearly a decade to flower from a seed, so bulbs naturally fetched a premium.

The tulip bubble lasted less than half a year, with Dutch investors wallowing in a pit of worthless tulip bulbs they paid so much for.

Tulip Mania

A Satire of Tulip Mania (Jan Brueghel the Younger (1640)) depicts tulip maniacs as brainless monkeys.

Sick Shoes, Bro

In more recent times, Bitcoin was proclaimed by many to be the modern equivalent of Tulip Mania, which has been covered ad nauseam by nearly every blog on the internet.

I’m a big sneaker fan, so I am at the coalface of the sneaker hype ecosystem in my spare time. The sneaker resale game is a US$2 billion dollar market that is projected to reach US$6 billion by 2025.

Nike SB Pigeons

Jeff Staple’s Nike SB Dunk “Pigeon” release sparked riots in New York in 2005.

Jeff Staple made headlines in 2005 when he released his Nike SB Dunk “Pigeon” with sneakerheads lining up around the block for a chance to buy a pair of these limited edition shoes. Riots were reported over these pigeon-emblazoned kicks which now sell for over AU$20,000 on sneaker resale marketplaces like StockX.

In the 15 years since, the demand for limited edition shoes has only increased, with heavyweight collaborators like Michael Jordan (Basketball the legendary Nike Air Jordan), Virgil Abloh (Off-White and Louis Vuitton Creative Director), Kanye West (Rapper turned reality TV husband), Travis Scott (Rapper and owner of giant inflatable version of his own head) and the late Kobe Bryant all carving out a significant chunk of the industry with their own signature shoe lines.

Michael Jordan Flu Game

A very sick Michael Jordan during the legendary Game 5 comeback victory in 1997. His Airness wears a pair of “Flu Game” Jordan 12’s which maintain a cult following. Sick shoes indeed.

Stop, Collaborate and Listen

Hype transcends the shoe and personal hygiene industries, retailers worldwide have taken the collaborative bull by the horns and successfully leveraged it for products as mundane as homewares. Flat-pack furniture and sales maze juggernaught IKEA frequently collaborate with creatives worldwide. Most recently was a collaboration with Off-White’s Virgil Abloh in November.

IKEA x Virgil Abloh MARKERAD

IKEA x Virgil Abloh MARKERAD collection featuring a wet grass rug, giant IKEA receipt, paper bags and a broken mirror.

I attended the launch of the MARKERAD collection for three reasons:

  1. Observe how IKEA would handle the scale of a launch like this
  2. Investigate the extent that the devoted customer would go to secure a limited edition piece
  3. I wanted a clock.

 

IKEA Virgil Abloh MARKERAD Launch

IKEA’s foodcourt was packed, and it wasn’t for $1 hot dogs.

The turnout was huge, I got there half an hour before the launch was due to start and IKEA had already allocated all of the tickets they had allocated for the products an hour before I got there. More than 20 people had camped out overnight to get their hands on furniture, which featured a backlit Mona Lisa, a chair with a doorstop on one leg, and a green shag pile rug with “WET GRASS” written on it.

IKEA Virgil Abloh MARKERAD Launch

Gordon, a hype reseller who does this full time.

I met up with Gordon, a reseller who quit his day job to attend releases like this as his primary source of income. Gordon has a contract with a sneaker resale store in Brisbane and has been lining up for things professionally for over 18 months.

Before the first half of the allocated numbers had been called, the Mona Lisa had already sold out. By the end of the day, the only items remaining were a small IKEA toolkit with a “HOMEWORK” embellishment on the lid. Clearly hypebeasts aren’t the DIY type.

You’ll be pleased to know that Gordon got me my clock, which I’m not too proud to admit that I paid a premium on over RRP – but that’s par for the course when it comes to the resale market.

IKEA Virgil Abloh MARKERAD Launch

My MARKERAD clock, featuring Virgil Abloh’s trademark quotation marks which are both fashionable and incredibly difficult to use as an actual clock.

Befriend The Bar Keeper

Switching back to grocery store wars for a quick final case study, Bar Keepers’ Friend is a canned abrasive cleaning powder that has been produced since 1882. It had a humble single facing allocation in the cleaning aisle in your local supermarket, but then something strange happened earlier this year.

Bar Keepers Friend

Bar Keepers’ Friend, still relevant in 2020 after nearly 140 years.

Social media discovered that this humble little can could do the unthinkable: it could obliterate the calcified buildup on your shower screens and brighten the kitchen sink with minimal effort. Consequently, the $8 can has been sold out for months despite assurances from Coles and Woolworths that they will meet demand.

Will Barkeeper’s Friend attract a 4-pack-per-customer limit or will it go the way of the tulip? Either way, retailers are cleaning up on the hype.

If the COVID-19 panic is getting you down, here is an incredible Simpsons mashup to lighten the mood:

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