Sometimes it is only the Communications team that sees things clearly. Used to putting ourselves in the shoes of our audiences, rather than only the operational or financial detail of the business, here are three aspects of the current crisis where Comms people can make a difference:
1. Reminding executives that Covid 19 is first and foremost a health issue – and by extension a personal security issue for individuals. So any sign of an organisation acting or communicating in way that suggests it is putting profit before people is the surest way to damage reputation both with the public and employees (e.g. Mike Ashley of Sports Direct trying to keep his sports apparel shops open after the government lockdown announcement even though they were clearly not an ‘essential service’, and consequently had to make a grovelling apology to the government and public).
Linked to this is the reputation damage arising from any failure of leadership and management if you fail to prioritise not just the health of employees but their wellbeing too (e.g. Tim Martin at JD Wetherspoons sent a very clear message about the real value he places on his people by firing his workers the moment the pubs were shut and telling them to get a job with Tesco).
2. Being alert for any suggestion that commercial priorities or a ‘business as usual’ mindset should guide behaviours and decisions. Example are myriad: the landlords charging full rent despite tenants being unable to operate; the banks looking to maximise profit from the government’s Coronavirus Business Loan Interruption Scheme or keep landlords to their banking covenants; the private schools charging full summer term fees; the companies like New Look (and Tim Martin again!) not paying suppliers. It is tin-eared and tone deaf not to be able to appreciate this is an unprecedented situation that requires a suspension of normal rules for a while and a compromise solution.
3. Remembering that danger also creates opportunity to be – and be seen – as a good corporate citizen and employer. Check corporate decisions against the declared purpose and values of the organization. If there was ever a moment for the management-speak of “corporate purpose” to be shown to be a reality, this is it.
While companies like Kraft-Heinz, KFC and Bacardi donate millions to recovery and research efforts, you could try assessing your company’s strengths to identify and communicate what would make the biggest difference to your stakeholders. For some this could be a strong balance sheet that allows workers to be paid or suppliers supported (e.g. Primark); or a logistics network that can bring aid to people where it is needed (e.g. Virgin Atlantic Cargo flying supplies to the NHS); or a factory that can start producing hand sanitiser or personal protection equipment for the NHS (e.g. Brewdog); or experts who can bring their thinking to problems (e.g. Mercedes partnering with University College London to invent a cheap non-invasive ventilator).
Generosity matters – however large or small – when we are all in this together.