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Taking control in uncontrollable times

By Michelle Turner, Account Director

“You may not be able to control every situation and its outcome, but you can control your attitude and how you deal with it.”

Never has this phrase been truer than it is right now.

I don’t think anyone could have predicted what has happened over the past month since the COVID-19 breakout, and it’s certainly not something businesses will have planned for in their forecasting and strategy for 2020!

But these things are sent to try us, and it’s times like these where we’ll see triumphs from those who adopt a considered and connected approach. When life seems uncontrollable and all your best-laid business plans have gone out the window, it’s important to take a breath and focus on the things you can control – how you respond to the situation personally and professionally.

The importance of purpose

How you respond as a company will be driven by your purpose and organisational values.

These values will help shape attitudes of those in leadership and the wider organisation. A strong and clear purpose helps provide context for decision making and unifies and motivates relevant stakeholders.

In challenging times such as these, the resilience of your team and their ability to pull together to do the right thing will be inherently based on the company culture you’ve created. Everyone is aligned and working towards a common goal.

Relying on your company purpose and values means you can respond authentically in any situation, delivering the messages your key stakeholders – including employees – want and need to hear. Now is not the time to try and capitalise on the situation by shoe-horning your company into the current rhetoric if you have no place being there.

Your purpose will help define the message and how you as a company are going to respond, this is true in any situation, not just during a crisis.

Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it

Your reaction needs to be planned – so it’s more of a response than a reaction. Think about how this situation may affect your long-term company strategy. Are you going to adapt your goods or services? Are you going to adjust how staff and customers communicate with one another? Are you going to see this a minor hiccup with potential long-term opportunities? Or will this have a devastating impact on your company?

It’s important to consider the long-term strategy as early as possible, as this will affect the communications and messaging to your staff, the public and other key stakeholders.

A recent study by Kantar stated 74% of people think companies should not exploit the situation, and only 30% want to see brands offering discounts and promotions. Being mindful and taking a considered approach to how you react in these situations will have a massive effect on your company reputation, public sentiment and the longevity of your brand.

It makes sense to review and adapt your current business and communications strategies. Don’t aim for short-term gains at the detriment of long-term durability in this situation.

Communication is key

Whichever way you respond as a company, an effective communications strategy spanning internal comms, PR and social media is key to how you deal with it, and potentially your short-term and future success. Brands might want to consider the following points:

1. Respond openly and honestly – these are unprecedented times for all of us. If you are open and honest with your employees, customers and partners, you’ll earn and maintain their trust. Companies that practice proactive, open and regular communications with key stakeholders are more likely to emerge from a crisis with strengthened relationships and increased trust.

2. Respond with empathy – this situation could actually be beneficial for your organisation (I’m looking at you, hand sanitiser and toilet roll manufacturers!) but even so, you need to ensure you’re outwardly communicating with empathy and looking at the bigger picture of how this is negatively affecting people on a global scale. Take their feelings into consideration, look for the positives but be smart when thinking through the implications of all you do. Look at the mixed response to BrewDog’s hand sanitiser launch as an example, whilst many applauded the pivot, there was some cynicism around its heavy use of branding, leading it to be seen as self-serving by some.

3. Respond in a timely and consistent manner – Be proactive with your communications plan, the situation is changing on a daily, sometimes hourly basis. You should commit to providing regular updates for your employees and your customers, utilising a plethora of platforms to do so. Now is the time to look at all the communication platforms you have in your arsenal, and make sure to pick the right ones and communicate regularly too. People don’t want to be left wondering what’s going on and how this affects them in times of uncertainty, they want to feel in control as well. If you traditionally rely on face-to-face engagement, you need to adapt quickly to create online experiences that work suit the current situation.

4. Respond and connect With the fast nature of online and broadcast news updates and social media, it’s important to be proactive in your listening and monitoring of the wider conversation. Stay on top of what the general public, your customers and industry peers are saying and this will help you join the conversation in an appropriate and timely manner. Whilst we’re social distancing, people are turning online to connect with others, whether that’s colleagues, friends or brands, it’s important to stay connected and involved in the conversations that are relevant to your company.

5. Respond by adding valueA study by Kantar showed that only 30% of people want to see brands offering discounts and promotions right now. Look at your marketing plan and be prepared to react, postpone and tweak if those promotions you had planned seem a little inappropriate at the moment. The time for promotion is later; what companies need to be doing now is reassuring people and communicating their brand values – building trust at a time when some companies are doing the opposite! Aldi is a great example of a company that are doing right by their employees, their producers, their customers and the wider community. They’re spearheading key initiatives whilst adapting their social content to make it even more relevant and useful to their followers.

Control what you can control

So even though you may not be able to control the economic impact COVID-19 is having on the world, as a company and as individuals you can control your attitude, how you deal with it and ultimately, your public perception.

Having a strong company purpose and well-thought-out communication plan is essential to ensuring your brand remains trustworthy and your reputation stays intact. You’ll see the long-term benefits as consumers, the general public and employees alike are already boycotting and calling-out companies they deem to be capitalising on the situation.

Control what you can control in these uncontrollable times, but make sure you’re empathetic and have your finger on the pulse in terms of public sentiment.

Now, more than ever, companies should be working together and supporting the communities they’re part of to make sure we can get through this together and we’ll be stronger at the end of it.

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