Batten down the hatches: lessons for the next mega-crisis

By Ian Morris, Partner

No-one really expected the Covid-19 pandemic. Even the world’s most crisis-ready organisations and communications teams will have been tested by it.

But those who had invested time and effort in proactively preparing for the worst will have negotiated the last few months with a lot more success than their under-prepared counterparts.

A vital principle of crisis management is to take the lessons of one crisis into your preparations for the next one. So here are some important lessons from Covid-19 so that next time, you’ll be battle-ready

  • Make a plan

It may sound obvious but many organisations are still highly underprepared for crises and the relentless pace of the early days of the pandemic highlighted just how important effective preparations are. These should include identifying your vulnerabilities; introducing procedures for the early identification of potential issues; drafting crisis plans and procedures; agreeing escalation and decision-making protocols; training spokespeople; putting monitoring tools in place; and testing your response.

  • Know when to talk and when to shut up

At the outset of Covid-19 businesses faced a vast number of potentially serious, fast-moving implications. Most businesses found that their communications should be very regular, due to the speed and the huge variety and gravity of concerns being experienced. As the pace of the crisis slowed, the most effective communicators also lowered the regularity of their updates to ensure they weren’t becoming part of the white noise. When determining regularity of communications in a crisis two key questions to ask are “what do my audiences want to know?” and “do we have anything new and useful to say?”

  • Remember all your audiences 

Covid brought myriad issues affecting multiple stakeholders, ranging from staff and customer safety to cost-cutting, the threat of job losses and pay cuts, supply chain issues, or extreme falls in revenues.  Businesses in the midst of a serious issue must consider how they communicate to all the key individuals and groups that need to understand what is happening within your organisation and how you are responding. The central message may be the same but will at least be nuanced for different audiences.

  • Take your people with you

More than any crisis I can remember, Covid has demonstrated just how important it is that organisations communicate effectively with their own employees. Internal communications will surely now be given an elevated status in everyday communications as well as part of crisis planning. Businesses are waking up to the realisation that more than any other group, it is employees who help them through a crisis and help them recover, so they must properly consider how they communicate with them with respect, integrity, empathy and transparency. 

  • Multi-skill your team

When a third of the team were self-isolating and another third were furloughed, the remainder of the comms team wished they had been given the social media passwords or shown how make and post video content. The pandemic has shown the value of making communications teams more resilient by ensuring multiple people understand how to perform each vital role. In a crisis you don’t have time to learn new skills, so building this capability into your team has been shown to be a crucial element of crisis planning. 

This article was written as part of our Communicating through the Covid Crisis report. To download the full report please click here