3 Core Values to Lead Your Crisis Communications Plan
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We have been told to not mix business and personal matters, but in times of crisis — and crisis management — business needs to get personal. I trademarked the term "public relation(ship)s" because I’ve always coached, taught and built a business around relationships — personal ones, real ones, and especially ones in which you care about the people you work with and surround yourself with. The foundation is to treat people like human beings and not transactions.
My friend Peter Shankman said to me last week, “What we do for our colleagues and clients in the next three weeks will drive most of our personal growth and success for the next three years.” So much of my business revolves around communication, public relations and creating messaging and positioning for brands and people. Now is the time we need to use our human tone and emotion. We can do this by leading our business communication plans internally and externally with three core values: empathy, clarity and service.
Empathy is different from sympathy. As Carrie Bobb, President of Carrie Bobb & Co, said in an interview last fall, “During extremely difficult situations or in the midst of managing a crisis, it is critical to have empathy. Not just express empathy, actually have it. There is a difference. Often in large corporations, there are so many people involved in the messaging itself that the heart can get lost in translation. Employees want to be heard and understood, and they can tell the difference between a manager expressing the message the company wants to deliver and a manager actually expressing they care for the individual.”
This is the time to use humanity, to lead with heart. You can do this by putting yourself in the shoes of others and feeling their pain, so you can better help them. For instance, if a colleague or employee is lonely and afraid, you can help them feel more connected on the human side by scheduling things like virtual social and lunch breaks using a platform like Donut.
Stakeholders and employees are looking for clarity. How can we find clarity during this time when we have no idea what is to come, or how long the quarantine will be? Keep the conversation going with your employees and customers and be as clear as you can. This is not the time to sell to your customers, rather the time to focus on what’s important. Jet Blue was one of the first in the airline industry to express that they would waive any fees for flight cancellations or changes, and they did so using video alongside the communication on their blog. Whole Foods Market also continually updates their communication about how they are supporting their team members with $2/hour additional pay, and how they have created early shopping hours for those aged 60+. If you communicate as clearly as possible, you will quickly learn what matters most. The same approach will become even more valuable for when we prepare for the “re-entry” back to what we consider normalcy.
Now is not the time to focus on getting attention, but a time to help. As with empathy, it’s one thing to help, but another thing to actually do it. We physically cannot be together with social isolation, yet it’s when we need each other the most. As a team leader, seek to help your colleagues as much as possible. Be flexible with their work hours, offer opportunities for enjoyment as best as possible and give them a break (be empathetic) if they have a more difficult situation going on in their lives. If your company has the means, give back to your customers. One example is what Pro Compression is doing by donating colorful and cheerful medical-grade compression socks to nurses and medical personnel on the front lines — many of whom are already customers of theirs. Starbucks is offering free therapy sessions to their employees while other CEOs from companies like Marriott and Delta are foregoing their salaries. Whether you are a small or big business, find the most appropriate way you are able to give back.
You have heard that we are all in this together, and it is not easy. But let’s put our best foot forward and rise by lifting others through empathy, clarity and service. As leaders, we can seek to become catalysts for change so that we may further our families, teams and ultimately community.