Mar 18th 2020

Reviewing the communications implication of Coronavirus

A Google news search at the time of writing produces 2.2 billion results for mentions of coronavirus in news articles online. Our world has been turned upside down, with huge implications not just for friends and family, but also for the global economy. In the UK, businesses are taking action to align with Government advice to work from home and reduce non-essential travel where possible, which requires a communications strategy to keep customers, partners and employees up-to-date.

The Babel team has decamped to makeshift desks at home and are probably guilty of eating more snacks than usual, but work continues as normal. The media is continuously looking for facts, figures and insights from businesses to support stories, ranging from how to keep toilet roll stacked on supermarket shelves, how you get care to the vulnerable through to why hackers are ramping up phishing scams. But a balance of tone and approach is crucial.

We are actively working with our clients to ensure that their retainer or project is supporting their current and future challenges. This includes further bolstering their internal comms function, offering guidance on alternatives to public events or additional crisis support.

Here are some of the areas to consider to ensure your brand gets the right balance:

Be truthful, clear and credible in what you say – don’t overtly push products and solutions or be disingenuous. The media and your customers will see right through it

  • Re-focus your comms strategy and plans – identify priority areas and work with your comms agency to rejig efforts to reassuring and continuing to update customers, stakeholders and employees on appropriate news and thought leadership
  • Plan alternatives for external events – virtual conferences/roundtables, thought leadership pieces, visualisations etc.
  • Prioritise your crisis comms and messaging – gather advice on issues management and crisis communications process and messaging updates required for changing times
  • Social media strategy and action – if you need to talk to your customers more directly, ensuring you have a social strategy and content hub to provide relevant information and keep your brand out there
  • Copywriting/ content – to keep in contact with customers, be it through emails, blogs, web copy – creating the right message for changing times and turning this into content that is going to interest your customers
  • Virtual media training – assess whether your spokespeople need additional training on how to communicate across all platforms, not just to media
  • Internal communications – creating programs to ensure your employees are informed as things change

Praise needs to be given to the companies that are getting it right and clearly communicating updates and initiatives during such a high-stress time. Look at the updates from Iceland about opening stores early for older customers, YouTube donating advertising space to official health agencies and brands like Google and Slack using Twitter for appropriate updates on working from home, as well as updates on flight flexibility for disrupted travellers from a number of major airlines.

However, as announced in Twitter’s recent guidelines on how to communicate in a coronavirus climate, Twitter has a word of caution for brands in the time of coronavirus: “This is not a ‘marketing opportunity.'” And I will repeat this till the cows come home. Think carefully about what your brand is saying, think about your customers, stakeholders and employers to ensure you get the right tone and timing.


Jenny Mowat