How your company responds during COVID-19 will matter long-term
A new website, called didtheyhelp.com, is tracking which organisations did or didn’t make a positive difference during the current COVID-19 pandemic.
We’ve already seen many companies and organisations being berated online and in the media – Victoria Beckham’s clothes brand being the latest example – with the company heavily criticised for choosing to furlough staff when its celebrity owner is worth so many millions of pounds.
It’s the same issue where Liverpool Football Club fell down – its loyal and community-spirited fans expected better from a rich football club that could afford to pay its players out of its own, rather than the government’s pocket. In LFC’s case the criticism was so fierce that it reversed its decision.
You might think that both Victoria Beckham Ltd and LFC did nothing wrong in their decision to furlough staff – they decided to access financial support that the government had put in place and which probably their accountants had suggested.
Accountants are rarely media advisers though, and what might make good financial sense on paper can soon prove a costly mistake if it taints a reputation.
COVID-19: The good, the bad and the ugly
We’ve recently seen examples of good and bad COVID-19 communications from some huge brands, but which ones got it right and which got it wrong?
Next – good
Retail store, Next, was quick to close its online operation until it knew it had its safety procedures right for staff. It has now restarted online sales with social distancing in place in its warehouses.
Dyson – good
Sports Direct – bad
Had to apologise for keeping shops open when customers and workers complained that non-essential stores had been asked to close.
Ticketmaster – bad
Another firm which has had to backtrack due to bad publicity. A company widely used across the globe, and trusted by loyal concert goers, Ticketmaster responded to repayment requests by changing its refund policy without highlighting it. The change said the company would only refund cancelled events and not ones that were ‘postponed’ or rescheduled, despite ticket-holders not being able to attend, causing a huge backlash on Twitter. It now looks like it has changed course.
Wetherspoons – bad
Wetherspoons received one of the biggest public backlashes. With essentially everyone in the country using the chain at some point, owner Tim Martin responded furiously to measures to close pubs by refusing to pay suppliers until the lockdown was over, telling staff they would be paid late and even went on to suggest they seek employment at Tesco during the pandemic. As you can expect, this didn’t go down very well.
So, what can your company do to help navigate a crisis successfully?
PR support in a crisis
When a crisis hits, whether it’s due to the actions of your own organisation or an event beyond your control such as COVID-19, knowing how to navigate it is key. A PR crisis management plan needs to be put in place quickly.
Whether you have internal PR staff or you use an external media agency, the PR team will play an important role in managing your reputation, as they’ll be able to:
- Advise on the media approach
- Make sure spokespeople are well-briefed and trained
- Identify key audiences and what they need to know
- Draft messages that can be used consistently across internal and external channels and in any interviews
How to manage a crisis
Whether it’s the coronavirus pandemic or something in the future, our pointers below will help:
- Trust – establishing an element of trust by being open and honest with everyone from the beginning, rather than sugar-coating or hiding things is the ideal place to start.
- Be fast and be frequent – as the first message heard is often the one that sticks, ensure your first announcement is accurate and timely. You’ll then need to provide frequent updates to reassure key stakeholders that you’re still on top of the detail.
- Be simple – use plain, easy to understand English and don’t over complicate the messaging, no one wants to be left more confused than when they started.
- Two-way comms – be open to questions and listen, answering honestly and openly.
- Dedicated response webpage – ensure you have a regularly updated space on your website or intranet that employees or customers can refer to.
Understanding your brand positioning and the external context is vital for effective crisis communications. So, if you’d like to talk about managing your reputation in a crisis, please get in touch.