COVID-19 Communications: What We Can Learn From Sustainability
March 18, 2020
Best Practices from Tourism and Healthcare
While governments work to contain COVID-19 and stock markets dive, many businesses are making swift moves to manage the crisis as it impacts supply chains, manufacturing processes and employee safety. Coronavirus may be wider-spread and faster-moving than anything we’ve seen before, but the principles of strong crisis management and sustainability marketing still stand.
As we’ve seen in recent weeks, nearly every industry and client has been impacted by COVID-19. Two specific industries – healthcare and tourism – are tied closely to the physical spread of this illness, meaning FINN’s health and travel practices have kept a strong pulse on the best strategies to keep clients’ stakeholders updated and informed.
While many still interpret sustainability or ESG through an environmental lens, we can’t forget the social and governance aspects. The following sustainability communications principles should guide your company’s messages during this challenging time: 1) transparency is key, 2) be honest and modest in your messaging, and 3) include data wherever possible.
THREE SUSTAINABILITY PRINCIPLES
Transparency is Key: “Being open, transparent and flexible is a cornerstone of a good crisis management plan,” says Debbie Flynn, Managing Partner in Finn Partners’ travel practice. “For example, airlines like British Airways and tour operators like Wendy Wu Tours are allowing greater flexibility in cancellations and amendments of booking.”
Create Supportive Tone: Sharing relevant and timely information is critical, and so is striking a tone that is supportive and reassuring. It’s important to illustrate corporate leadership and maintain trust between the company, its employees and other stakeholders – without losing sight of the emotional component.
Educate with Data: Misinformation and increased panic largely stems from a lack of information. Follow the lead of global and national health organizations for the most accurate, up-to-date information on health risks and precautions. “We must apply experiences from past pandemics – share frequent information from reputable sources, and do not create panic,” notes Kristie Kuhl, Managing Partner of Health at Finn Partners. “While a pandemic may peak and die relatively quickly, how we share information has long-term implications.”
HOW TO IMPLEMENT
Once these principles are in place, it’s crucial to implement the business and communications strategy with the goal of maintaining your company’s credibility and building trust with your stakeholders.
Integrated Response: An established plan aligned with the corporate sustainability strategy will enable clear action to maintain safety and long-term business performance. Since the long-term sustainability of any company is rooted in transparency, it is critical that corporate leaders are prepared to share the what, why and how of this plan with all stakeholders at any time, ultimately ensuring the protection of employees, business operations and the communities in which they operate.
Inform Early: “Communicate early and often” could not be truer when it comes to informing stakeholders, especially employees. Any communications should align with the company’s core values and be shared immediately to quell misinformation. Hilton, for example, was one of the first international hotel chains to announce the temporary closing of 150 hotel properties across China due to employee and guest safety concerns. They also shared expected losses with investors.
Avoid Self-Promotion and Cause Marketing: Though many have the best intentions, companies must avoid capitalizing on public health issues. This often looks like one-off donations for publicity or the pushing of products or services based on fear tactics. Ensure any philanthropic efforts to donate or raise money aligns with your company’s core values, and that communications around such efforts are authentic to your business and the context of the situation.