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Actions Speak Louder than Words in a Crisis

Joey Tackett

Managing Director, Branding, Forum One

The professional community’s response to the current global crisis, COVID-19 outbreak, is a great example of the phrase we’ve all heard throughout our personal and professional lives:

“Actions speak louder than words.”

By just taking a quick scan of social media, you can see examples of countless organizations leading by example—they are putting people first during this crisis in a rather unprecedented way. 

Could you have imagined even just six months ago being in today’s reality:

  • Swift action has been taken by many companies, governments, and nonprofits to make contingency plans to work from home indefinitely—many companies that are not set up to do so
  • Coachella, South by Southwest and professional and collegiate sports seasons being canceled or postponed 
  • Major nonprofit engagement events and conferences being canceled or postponed
  • With more unprecedented examples being announced almost hourly 

This current reality is quite jarring. A crisis like this moves people to mental space where they crave security, safety, and normalcy.  

How have you communicated about your response to the current COVID-19 outbreak? 

How will you communicate in the coming weeks in an ever-evolving situation? 

Your response should be holistic and must consider many factors. You and your team must move fast and be nimble. Here are some things we are observing and practicing right now to help us be an active voice of support and leadership during this crisis: 

Focus On Putting People First

The actions taken by so many organizations so quickly to limit risk is a paramount example of putting people first. Though, this is the first of many decisions you and others will need to make to continue putting people first.

In just the past day, a dozen emails have hit our inbox from various companies and organizations with their perspective on the COVID-19 outbreak. In dissecting the various communication styles, most have truly captured this important point to put the reader and their needs and concerns first. 

The most effective communications during a crisis follow the below framework:

  • State your commitment to health safety
    We are going to presume every organization has this commitment. What’s your unique approach to this commitment? Where does it stem from? Say something short and succinct that captures your care and attention to health safety using your brand voice. It is okay to connect this to your brand messaging, as long as it focuses more on why you care. Have a bias toward focusing on why your commitment matters to your reader.
    Our takeaway: frame your commitment to your contacts
  • Alleviate concerns with specific examples
    Clarity and transparency is the most important aspect. This may be precautions you are taking, ways your organization’s people can protect themselves, alternate ways to engage with you, etc. If you work on a global scale, this is a great place to be specific about how you are managing safety in other parts of the world.
    Our takeaway: be clear and specific 
  • Share resources as appropriate
    So much information being shared on social media about the COVID-19 outbreak, though there still seems to be a lot of confusion and questioning about what is true. To the level you can help add value to your people’s lives by sharing factual and helpful resources, this is a great idea. Even better, if you have resources in your unique content that speak to some aspect of the crisis, these are a great cornerstone for your communications during this outbreak.
    Our takeaway: add value to your contact’s lives

Our friends at Vegetable + Butcher, a local DC food delivery service, have a really clear and impactful close to their recent email :

“We aim to be a part of the solution. Our team will continue to adjust protocols, as appropriate, as further knowledge of the COVID-19 emerges.  We will continue to monitor and adapt our measures based on the best reliable information, and will keep you informed with any updates that we may have.”

Communicate & Be Creative

The nonprofit community has been faced with difficult decisions, as have many entertainment and sporting events—do we cancel our gatherings and with how much notice?

Just in the past day, with Federal, state and local governments instituting new regulations for gatherings, this is going to continue. 

At Forum One, we participate in many great conferences and collaboration events this time of year. They are a key part of our outreach and professional development. One-by-one, in the matter of a week, most have canceled or postponed (to an uncertain future date) their Spring events. Many of these events are huge conferences, so the logistical impact is really noteworthy. We realize this is a difficult decision and every organization has different considerations. 

So we want to focus on the question: “What now?”

This is the big question everyone is facing in the face of these cancellations—how to keep their audiences engaged and replace the strategic outcomes these events achieved in other ways. 

Here are some things that are working great for us and other great things we are seeing and hearing from our clients and partners:

Communicate more
Whether it is with your staff or your audiences, now is a time when communicating more is a good idea. The communications should be meaningful and human. Obviously, everything cannot be about health safety, though try to keep these messages consistent and timely. Much of your work is not impacted by this crisis, so make sure to balance crisis communications with updates about regular projects and initiatives. 

Communicate creatively
In the absence of in-person interaction which your organization may rely on, video conference meetings are the best way to keep your people engaged.

For your staff
For your staff who may now or soon be working from home exclusively, consider doing daily coffees or stand-ups using video conferencing. Seeing and hearing everyone will help with morale and collaboration. 

For your audiences
For your audiences, whether it be members, constituents, etc., this is a great time to host additional events to gain face time and give people a chance to interact with you and others in your organization. This is especially valuable to replace sessions from your events that may have been or will be canceled or postponed. 

We are certainly in this with you and are watching these communications strategies develop in real-time. We plan to share more observations and tips over the coming weeks as the COVID-19 outbreak develops.

Written By

Joey Tackett

Managing Director, Branding, Forum One

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