I’ve heard from many different entities during the COVID-19 crisis—theaters I’ve had subscriptions with, sports teams I order from, publications like The Washington Post and The New Yorker. (I’m not a big Amazon person, although I guess Mr. Bezos does own the Post.) And you really do get a sense of who they are from their outreach.
When I emailed The Washington Ballet about my subscription—what remained this season and renewing the next—Wil called me about two seconds later to discuss it. (Another good lesson—I was impressed!) He was honest and straightforward, and it really made me feel good about continuing my subscription. When I later reminded him that he forgot my free Nutcracker tickets, he was so apologetic that I then felt bad.
Another division here held a webinar last week on Crisis Communications, and a colleague at another association, Theresa Witham, managing editor/publisher at CUES, did a great job covering it for us. The quotes I use are from her reporting. Here are some of the key takeaways from the webinar:
Clear messaging. “For a lot of people, thinking on your feet was really important after March. It still is,” said Ami Neiberger-Miller, founder of SteppingStone, LLC. “The people who did well, who moved quickly, had done well around fast decision making. They had clear decision streams and were able to put out information quickly.”
Authenticity. As the crisis continues, “being honest and authentic still counts a lot,” she said.
Empathy. Almost all of us have had to cancel or postpone a meeting—or move it to virtual like SIPA 2020 (early-bird registration ends this week!). So people can identify with that. “People notice when you acknowledge those losses” and disappointments in your communications, Neiberger-Miller said. It also allows you to transfer your enthusiasm to the new event.
Be up front. Many of the theaters here in Washington, D.C. still don’t know when they will be able to go on. So maybe their initial emails were a bit too optimistic and they’ve had to walk them back. That’s okay, said Neiberger-Miller. “I think you just explain what happened. Most people are reasonable.”
Build and trust your community. Theaters are like publishers in that both have built loyal communities. This is a time to honor that community with updates, empathetic messages and, maybe foremost, value. For theaters, that may mean opening up the archives to some past productions on video. The National Theatre in London has done incredibly well with donations from doing this.
It’s about them. “People will remember it,” if you are doing things to help them get through, she said.
Make a list of anything that could go wrong. COVID-19 has shown us that we need a plan for potential problems before they become reality, Neiberger-Miller said.
In case of… If your company has events and/or property, have a plan for different kinds of crises involving buildings and venues, such as a fire, natural disaster, gas leak or active shooter. Also think about attendee health emergency, speaker cancellation, speaker controversy and, of course, pandemic.
Remember to include people behaving badly in your planning. What would your company do if your event has a Me Too crisis involving a speaker, member or employee?
Create communication templates. Neiberger-Miller advises having templates for press releases and statements built out for various scenarios. In an earlier webinar we had, communications experts said they had one person responsible for templates throughout the company so messages would be consistent.
Be ready. “You never know what your next crisis will be but if you have some of those pieces in place, it will be easier for you,” she said. “…Even if you didn’t have a plan for this exact scenario, if you already had a [crisis communication] plan in place it helped you respond.”