Crisis Communications: Keeping it REAL in the COVID-19 Landscape

“Unprecedented.” We’ve probably all seen that word more in the past three weeks than we have in the past three years. And understandably so. The totally pervasive, global impact of COVID-19 is unlike anything most of us have seen in our lifetimes. And yet, even in these uncharted waters, the most basic tenets of marketing communications remain true. Know your audience. And connect with your audience by satisfying a relevant need.

Universally, our target audiences have rarely been more consumed with a single topic. And everything we do and say as communicators needs to reflect that reality, authentically. Following are four checkpoints for keeping it “REAL” in the face of a pandemic or any far-reaching crisis.

Re-focus externally. Audience-first messaging is more than advisable in the COVID-19 landscape. It’s imperative. People are scared, and uncertain, and frustrated. We need to meet them in that place, as humans first, and marketers second.

Evaluate public service. Is what we have to say relevant to consumers’ current mindset? More times than not, today, that question translates to “Does our messaging relate to the COVID-19 pandemic?” If not, we need to seriously reevaluate the wisdom of sharing it now. Resonating topics will undoubtedly continue to evolve, as we weather this storm. In the media, we’re already seeing a slight shift from hard COVID-19 news and related public service announcements, to a combination of news content and more feature-focused pieces on adjusting to shelter-in-place and other ancillary topics.

Assess sensitivity. It’s fair to say we’re all operating at a state of heightened sensitivity. Images of crowds of people, or phrases like “hands-on” or “going viral” that were commonplace less than a month ago need to be scrutinized through a new lens.

Look ahead. This too shall pass, eventually. For the scores of industries that have experienced a disruption, now is the time to develop a solid, proactive communications plan for jumpstarting constituent engagement when business resumes. As part of this planning process, we need to recognize that this new-world consumer is not going to be the same consumer we knew earlier this year. Marketers will need to find a resonating niche within a new-world order one can only expect will be marked by motivating factors ranging from financial insecurity and residual caution, to a heightened sense of community, and a deep-rooted desire to reconnect with others.