May 18, 2020

Employers are trusted, and have responsibility to take care of employees during COVID-19, communications experts say (w/video)

By: Andrew Lenderman   Comments: 0

Take care of your employees, even in tough times. Communicate frequently. Admit what you don’t know. And show your humanity.

Those are just a few of the ways employers can communicate effectively with employees and customers during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a panel of experts who spoke Monday during AWB's Employer Resources webinar series.

Michelle Cole, a partner and director at Gallatin Public Affairs, shared results of a recent Morning Consult survey to kick off the webinar, which focused on communication strategies during the coronavirus pandemic.

Sixty-seven percent of consumers said it was important for companies they purchase from to take care of their employees and treat them well, even in tough times.

"They care about companies that are taking care of their workers," Cole said. The second most important answer cited by consumers was for companies to have readily available products.

Businesses need to communicate not only with customers, but also with their employees.

"My experience is that employees really want to know what you know, and what you don't know," Cole said. She listed whether employees have jobs, what's the schedule for reopening, and has the business applied for government help as common questions.

Stephen Daniels-Brown of Daniels-Brown Communications provided the nuts and bolts to help any employer survive a crisis with a good communication plan. First, employers should organize the crisis team of company leaders, identify key audiences, determine communication channels, assess vulnerabilities and prepare responses.

He also shared the Four Cs in communication during a crisis: Candor, clarity, compassion and confidence.

The compassion reminder was especially relevant now as the pandemic continues to claim lives. He recommends expressing empathy for those affected, and aligning this concern with the organization's values and actions.

"Increasingly, audiences -- both our clients and new customers -- are looking to businesses to do the right thing, to be socially conscious," he said.

Taylor Bickford of Strategies 360 shared a recent case study related to the coronavirus and its impact. The company helped the Bristol Bay Native Corporation respond to community concerns and share information quickly as the pandemic unfolded.

One of Bickford's main points was the need to take a comprehensive communications approach. The Bristol Bay example began with a website to share critical information, followed by targeted web, search engine and social media ads to drive readers to the site, and public service announcements through traditional media channels like radio.

He also emphasized that every organization in the country is experiencing its own unique crises now, and that research shows few of these organizations "are prepared to manage even a normal crisis, let alone a pandemic," according to his presentation.

"This all speaks to the need to be really creative during this time," Bickford said. Don't rely on just one tactic -- use multiple ones.

Finally, Michelle Hege of DH shared survey results from the Edelman Trust Barometer that shows employers have a big responsibility to communicate well during the pandemic.

"When consumers were asked about who do they trust to navigate the pandemic...'my employer' came up very strongly, in fact 27 points over government and media," she said.

She also said it's a critical time to be starting an employee first communications program with frequent updates, transparently and honestly.