Communicate in a crisis

by Jane Douglas – May 28, 2020

When lockdown was announced millions of people went to ground, struggling to process the magnitude of what was happening. News websites cascaded with headlines, one after the other, each of which would have dominated the news cycle for months in our previous lives. We waited, awe-struck by frontline workers but fearful, wondering whether Covid-19 would darken our doorsteps, if it hadn’t already stolen into our lives. And coming to terms with the fact that many lives were being snatched away too soon. 

As people grappled with their fears or confronted them head on, while simultaneously trying to keep the economy ticking over, communications teams had the difficult task of deciding what to say to their audience and how. 

Gradually, organisations have found their voices. However, few communications strategies remain untouched by the social and economic effects of the pandemic, with projects paused or pushed back. Events in particular have been hard hit by social distancing. While some organisers have pivoted quickly to virtual events, such as the Hay Festival, most businesses do not have their level of expertise to adapt their programme at short notice or frankly the stardust of Margaret Atwood and Benedict Cumberbatch to pull in the virtual crowds. Others fear the intimacy and networking appeal of live events will be lost online and so postponement seems the best option. 

That may well turn out to be the right decision, but think twice before losing too many touchpoints with your clients. Right now, the new normal is being defined in home offices and socially distanced workplaces up and down the country. New narratives are forming in each sector and across the economy as a whole as we begin to face the next challenge of our generation – rebuilding. Through millions of conversations an outline is starting to emerge of what has been lost, what has been gained and what shape we want the economy and society to take in the future. 

If you want to be part of the new normal, then now is the time to make yourself heard. Help your clients make sense of what’s happening and show them how you can assist, or someone else will. 

When adapting plans in a rush, it’s worth revisiting the basics of a great content marketing strategy. Here are some questions that will set you on the right course: 

What do I want?

It sounds obvious but set out your objectives for each piece of content. Are you trying to convert directly to sales? Do you want to grow your email mailing list? Or are you trying to position your company as thought leaders? You get what you measure so make sure your analytics are focused on what you care most about, not just on what you’ve always measured. 

What do they want?

Forget for a moment what you want to say and ask what your target market wants to know. It sounds simple but when you’re submerged in the reality of your company it can be hard to see through a customer’s eyes. Be honest with yourself and from there build a content plan that first enthrals your audience and second complements your objectives.

Is my story original? 

If someone else is saying the same thing at the same time you will struggle to cut through the noise and reach your audience. The magic happens when you find just the right angle. You don’t have to enlist the New York Times’ news team to find a scoop, but the standards are high in content marketing these days, so you need a good creative team. 

Have I heard the mood music?

Ordinarily this is about capturing the zeitgeist – themes that are just on the horizon, that are starting to embed themselves in our culture, but which people aren’t conscious of yet. But right now there is another reason to think about the mood music. You are either speaking to people in their homes or to people feeling stressed, probably both. That makes it important to think about your messaging from a human point of view before publishing. If you’re not good at reading a room or judging the mood, make sure you leave space for colleagues to disagree with you and listen to them when they do. 

What, where, how? 

There are no hard and fast rules for choosing your medium but try to get out of your comfort zone every now and then. Whether your content takes the form of a print magazine, animated short, podcast, infographic or blog, make sure your distribution strategy does it justice. In addition to direct mailing lists, there are endless strategies for distributing content. Try tools such as BuzzSumo to search for social media influencers based on specific topics and @ them when you post a link, ask internal and friendly external influencers to share what you have produced, and know your content so that when a relevant trend or headline crops up you can resurface stories. Once you’ve published, run the analytics and question your assumptions. Then use that data to feed your content strategy. 

Published May 28, 2020

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