This is an unprecedented time for which even the most diligent businesses couldn’t prepare. Fear and confusion are rampant. That is why, in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, your communications strategy is more critical than ever.

While we’re still in this daily routine of Zoom calls, dogs barking in the background, and the development of a deep love for elementary school teachers, one thing shines through for me: this is temporary. It will end, and we will eventually leave our homes. It’s my job to prepare my clients and our business for what will be on the other side.

It may be tempting to hit pause on your marketing plan and freeze all expenses, but this would be a mistake. How you act and appear to the world during this pandemic and as we emerge from it has the potential to impact your brand for years to come — good or bad. Especially now, your message matters.

  • Create a plan. Use it. Revisit it often. While the goals you set for 2020 have surely changed dramatically, this is the time to use that plan you built as a foundation for working through “what if” scenarios. Don’t panic. Stay level-headed, disciplined and focused. Use your business continuity and crisis communications plans. As the plan shifts, communication will be the key to your success. Make sure the plan is easy to understand and flexible in responding to the unknown.
  • Communicate with stakeholders. If you’re an essential retail business still operating at this time, your employees are likely experiencing a sense of fear of going to work mixed with gratitude for having a job. Acknowledge them, communicate with them frequently, and do what you can to help them navigate these historic times. How you treat your people will reflect upon your brand far into the future. If your retail business is nonessential, and you’ve had to make layoffs and adapt to online sales, your employee communications are just as crucial. Everyone understands that times are tough. It’s how we deal with these scenarios that express the essence of what you are as a company. Analyze your stakeholder communications by asking yourself, “Who else needs to know?” Consider who contributes to your business, customers and their segments, employees and their varying levels, vendors, partners, etc.
  • Let your core values guide your message. Now is the time to lean into your core values. What do you need to communicate to your stakeholders, and in what way? What do you want employees and customers to say about your business when they look back months from now? If one of your top core values is forming relationships, embrace it by leaning into those relationships now more than ever. That starts with communicating and accepting feedback. Social media is an excellent tool for the two-way communication your customers may feel like they need right now. Use your values as a filter for all your marketing and communications efforts to ensure you stay true to what you are as a company. This can also bolster your stance if leadership begins to make hasty decisions or changes that could impact brand reputation.
  • Stay active on social media. Don’t go dark. Social media is the tool nearly everyone is embracing to stay connected right now. Here are six best practices we recommend when developing content for your social media channels:
    • Hope: Look for things that can provide hope and inspiration.
    • Nostalgia: Use images or memories from past years.
    • Offer Escape: Use images and videos of fun times.
    • Offer Resources: Share information from experts in your industry.
    • Do Good and Share: If you’re doing something for the community, post about it and let people know.
    • Community Support: Share good community news or resources that others have posted — e.g., restaurants that offer delivery or pickup, how to make masks, etc.
  • Get hyperlocal. I believe that no matter how large a company is, every brand is local. This is especially true when it comes to multi-unit retail operations. In this current situation, it may be hard to highlight your store locations, but it can be done. Consider highlighting essential local employees who serve as greeters or are the welcoming face the community recognizes on social media. Pull out stories about community businesses nearby your locations and support them through your efforts. Encourage your local employees, if they aren’t already, to reach out to their networks and community leaders to identify needs or ways in which you can support the community. You may have product on hand that could benefit those in need that will have minimal impact on your bottom line. For example, a multi-unit food and beverage client of ours provided paper bags for school lunch deliveries because the district was running out. This was a simple way to help and also share its brand with the entire community.

You have an opportunity to make a lasting impression by creatively communicating with grace and professionalism during this time. The strongest marketers and leaders will adjust to the evolving landscape.

We’re taking our own advice and doing what we can to give back at REED Public Relations. That is why we created the COVID-19 Communications Hotline. We’re providing COVID-19 communications counsel at zero cost to businesses that lack this resource or simply need a sounding board.

To learn more about the COVID Communication Hotline or to sign up for a session with a member of the REED crisis team, visit covidcommshotline.com.