It's a marathon... When the realization hit that Covid-19 was an emergency right here at home, everyone rushed into crisis mode. Those who had crisis response plans and crisis communication plans opened them up and tried to apply them promptly to the situation or quickly realized their shortfall (that’s for another blog conversation). It was a mad rush. The sprint was on to communicate quickly with employees, clients and every stakeholder we could think of at the time.
Most of us thought we were in for a couple tough weeks, maybe three. Yet, here we are now counting this crisis in months. Clearly, we can’t address things like we would for a punctual catastrophic event. We’ve all come to realize that it’s not a sprint to communicate what the crisis is, inform on what we’re doing to address it, to make things better, to prevent it in the future and to restore trust. It’s a marathon – we have to be methodical, learn to breathe and keep a steady pace. We see that in our various levels of government’s communications. They provide ongoing small increments of information, and address issues as they arise in a much more organized and thoughtful manner than they did on day one. As individuals, we’re also moving in that direction. We engaged in Easter or Passover or simply enjoyed the long weekend in a much more thoughtful and precise manner than we probably would have normally. In business, big, medium or small it’s the same.
Not knowing when this crisis will pass and what the backside of it will look like, we have to think about how we can best sustain our stakeholder engagement, remain relevant and define what the future may look like. This goes beyond event crisis communication and the art of stakeholder relations management – no matter which audience group we’re targeting. It requires going back to the basics and using our training.
It means diving back into our vision, mission and values. It means diving into our who, what, where, when, why and how. Who is interested by what we have to say? What do our employees need to know from us? What do they expect? Similarly, what do our clients, contractors, vendors, regulators and so many others we deal with on a regular basis want or require from us? What is the value we have to offer? Do we have to modify where, when and how we communicate and deliver our services? How is this crisis changing things? What can we do to address the obvious issues and those that just creep up? Do we have a system to prioritize them? What are the criteria? And, of course it takes listening and providing a forum to our stakeholders to talk to us, to let us know what matters to them and how we can help. We may not have all the answers but part of the role of crisis communication is to help manage the narrative – even when the answer has to simply be “we don’t know yet” or “we haven’t figured that out yet but we’re working on it.”
Truly, to sustain our organizations’ stakeholder engagement now and in the future, it will take being true to who we are, being authentic – it means telling the truth. It requires showing everyone that we care by letting our actions speak for themselves. It also means staying up to date on the latest news regarding the situation and providing timely updates to our stakeholders – it doesn’t mean overwhelming them with information or communicating the obvious, there is a balance to be found. It’s about being innovative and using new knowledge to communicate what people need and want to know and let them know the solutions we have to issues they may not even have thought about yet. And, it may require finding and engaging the right partners to share the load – to ensure you can last the distance and recover after the effort, because after all we now realize it’s a marathon.
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