Communication planning during and after a crisis

Most businesses had to communicate quickly and effectively during the COVID-19 crisis.
Team working on crisis communication plan

Edmond businesses have just begun to recover from the impact of the COVID-19 crisis. Who would have envisioned how the world around us has changed in the last few months? Most businesses, whether closed, partially closed, or continuing to be open during the crisis had to communicate quickly and effectively in order to maintain relationships with employees, customers, suppliers, and others. It is just as important to continue providing updated information to these audiences throughout and following reopening. It is well to keep in mind that this crisis may not be over and to plan for what your business will do if another crisis occurs.

There are multiple shareholders who will be affected by changes in your business

Key audiences

There are multiple shareholders who will be affected by changes in your business. Most immediately we think of needing to let employees and customers know how they will be affected, but there are other audiences you need to inform about changes and what they can expect from your business in the future. These include suppliers, bankers, insurers, creditors, landlords, equipment lessors, contractors, and others. Keeping these key audiences informed about your business, the impact of the shutdown, and what your future plans are will reinforce the relationships you have with each of them.

Key components in the message

Whether you are informing your audience about a crisis or about upcoming changes to your business, there are certain components that should be included:

1) Be clear

Even if your message is simply “Closed,” it is important to give enough information so that whoever is reading it can understand what is happening to your business. The message must provide reasons for the actions you’ve taken and be believable. 

2) Be honest and accurate

While it may be difficult to be accurate when a situation is rapidly changing, acknowledge that the information you are sharing is subject to change and ask them to understand that you will keep them up to date as you have new information. Keep customers and employees informed on any changes that occur due to limited supplies, price increases from suppliers, etc. One Edmond restaurant raised prices on beef dishes following a significant rise in beef prices, but they were clear about the reason that this change would be temporary. They have since lowered the price back to original levels, keeping their promise to customers. If you make a mistake or have to renege on a promise, own up to it and make amends if possible.

3) Show you value the relationship

Successful business owners establish interpersonal relationships with each of their audiences. When communicating with an audience, let them know you value the relationship. Many Edmond businesses kept their customers and employees informed using a variety of methods such as email, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and print to keep customers up to date with the status of business operations as well as providing helpful content such as recipes or how-to guides. Some restaurants offered new services such as family meals or even grocery items. While these new services created new income, they also offered customers increased convenience and let customers know that the company cared about the impact of the crisis on their lives. 

It is just as important to acknowledge suppliers, creditors, banks, or other businesses that provided relief so that your business could survive. Many banks were key to helping businesses with business loans available due to COVID -19. Some businesses were able to negotiate reduced or suspended lease payments. Expressing your gratitude for the help received and sharing information about the success of your business is important to strengthening these relationships.

4) Ask for feedback

Continue to stay in touch with those who are key to the continued success of your business. Ask these very important partners what method of communication is most effective for them, what kind of information they need, and what suggestions they have for improved communication with your business in future. 

Solid, honest communications with your stakeholders won’t cost you much, but will reward you and your business now and for a long time to come.

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About Linda Parker

Linda Parker is owner of LSP Consulting, LLC, a firm providing human resources solutions to government and small businesses. Her business focuses on human resources management issues including performance management, strategic planning and staff development.

Ms. Parker has been a volunteer with the Oklahoma City SCORE chapter since January, 2011. She held various positions with the chapter including Chair.

Ms. Parker holds a Master’s Degree in Special Education from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. She received a Bachelor of Arts from the Oklahoma College of Liberal Arts (now USAO) in Chickasha, OK.