We may think that the world will never be the same. Partly, we’d be right. Yes, there is a new normal, and our lives will continue to be significantly disrupted in the coming months—perhaps a year. However, before we start our motorcycle gang and storm across the desert Mad Max-style, we should take pause and look at crises in times past and see if we have any insights on what surviving and thriving businesses did in times like these.
I have seen many crises in my more than thirty years as a communications professional. During the September 11th attacks, the world seemed to come to a complete stop. I’ve seen several recessions and, most recently, the Great Recession, which devastated entire industries. The corporate world is no stranger to crises, but companies persisted, and so did consumers.
It’s essential to keep this in mind as we navigate our way through COVID-19. I have seen companies transform into beacons during this time, by rallying around their corporate vision and brand platform and work tirelessly to help people, and to do so selflessly. Some more directly, like 3M who doubled the manufacturing of N95 respirator masks, Apple who found and donated at least 10 million masks to health care workers, or Beyond Meat, who distributed over 1 million meatless patties to hospitals and food banks. Some more indirectly, like Audible, who is providing free access to their audiobooks so that kids can have access to education and entertainment or HBO who is letting people watch their premier content for free.
The common denominator for all of these brands was that they are tangibly helping people that need something they can provide. Do they get media coverage? Some of them do. Do they acquire new customers? Maybe. Are they helping? Yes, and that is what people will remember. Helping during a crisis is not marketing, nor is it even an investment; it is about doing the right thing because you have the resources to do so.
You may not be able to do any of these things. Maybe you are a B2B company or provide enterprise solutions for companies, or your margin is such that you’ll harm your company in effort to offer a free product. Whatever your reason, it is still vital that you find a way to be useful and resourceful to your stakeholders, your partners, your customers, your vendors. You must talk to them, be a source of information for them, and be part of a trusted entity in their world.
Communications isn’t about selling yourself to your stakeholders. It is about taking care of them. As tempting as it may be to shut down communications because of concern of being tone-deaf, lack of good news, or any other reason, don’t. Find something useful to say. Every brand and company has a set of values and a reason for being. What is yours? How does that translate to your stakeholders?
If you stop talking, you stop being heard. Companies that have weathered other crises were out there talking, taking care of people, and so they were remembered. It is always critical to be relevant and present, especially now.