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How to Communicate Your Crisis Management Plan for COVID-19

By Kathryn Hawkins. Agency Process
Cropped view of businesswoman writing on stickers notes with copy space
VadimVasenin via Depositphotos

The global pandemic has caused turmoil in every industry. Here are some strategies for creating your own crisis management plan.

Business as usual came to an end several weeks ago due to the global pandemic. With many states on full lockdown, physical businesses of all kinds have shuttered altogether until they get the all-clear to reopen. Others have had to shift models, with many restaurants transitioning into take-out and delivery-only joints. Many online and e-commerce companies are keeping their business running, but may be facing delays due to supply chain issues, and consumer demand for many products is way down (there’s not much call for tuxedo rentals when you’re couch-bound, after all).

Hopefully, you already had some sort of business continuity plan in place for natural disasters, but the magnitude of this event has caught all of us off-guard and caused business disruption in all industries, so it’s not surprising if you’re still struggling to work out a detailed disaster recovery plan.

Before you get there, though, focus on what’s happening now. That means coming up with a crisis management communication strategy for your customers and prospects around how your company’s navigating the pandemic.

No matter what your business is, if you’re still offering services to customers, it’s important for you to communicate with them about how COVID-19 has impacted your business, so that they’ll understand what level of service to expect at this point in time.

Crisis communications for retail businesses

For a bricks-and-mortar organization, customers might want to know questions such as:

  • Are you open?
  • What are your current hours?
  • Are there any products or services I won’t be able to buy during this time?
  • How have you changed your practices to enforce social distancing?

Make sure to create a landing page or blog post on your website that provides the most current information on your business’ status, including any changes to products or services, and how you’ve addressed any government restrictions that might impact your critical business functions or supply chain. In the event that you’re not currently open, you can use the page as an opportunity to sell gift cards to shoppers who’d like to continue supporting your business once you’re cleared to re-open.

Risk management for B2B companies

For a B2B company, customers want to know more than what you can offer right now—they want to know what the future looks like for you. It’s important that you can demonstrate your business’ long-term stability. Customers may be planning to invest in longer-term contracts, and don’t want to sign a contract if they don’t anticipate that the company will survive.

Questions you should answer here include:

  • Are you ready to accept new clients? If so, what’s the onboarding timeline?
  • Is your team well-equipped to work remotely with no service or security issues?
  • Do you have any supply chain issues that might impact service or delivery timelines?
  • Have you reduced headcount? If so, can you ensure the same service level as you previously offered?
  • Have you reduced unnecessary outgoing expenses to avoid unmanageable debt levels?

A documented business continuity plan will go a long way towards easing your prospects’ minds. Keep in mind they may also research your business independently on third-party reviews sites and business credit monitoring services, so do your best to ensure any external profiles are in good shape.

How are we impacted?

In Eucalypt’s case, for instance, we’re fortunate to have embraced a remote work model more than a decade ago. Two years ago, we transitioned away from staff roles to rely on a nationwide network of trusted freelance team members so that we can flexibly scale our team in line with specific project needs. Our expenses are always very much in line with our expected profits, and can scale up or down as needed.

Because we don’t have an external office or full-time employees, we’ve been able to adapt very quickly to changing circumstances around us. We’re still working with our team of freelancers, who all operate from their own home bases—and in the event that one isn’t able to complete a project, either myself or another one of our team members with relevant expertise can step in to finish it.

While we’ve lost a couple of clients who haven’t been able to adapt their business models enough to avoid cutting marketing expenses, we’ve managed our cash flow well—our only expenses are a few software tools and our freelance budget. My partner Jeff and I each pay ourselves a salary, but we can reduce that salary in line with our revenue expectations with no issues.

Under the circumstances, we feel confident that we can wait out the tough times and come back even stronger. Obviously, we didn’t have the foresight to hedge against a global pandemic—no one did. We just focused on staying lean and agile from the start, which is helping us in this unique situation.

In the meantime, we’ll look for opportunities to be helpful and offer free advice to businesses who need it (feel free to get in touch if you need advice on managing a marketing team remotely), and help support our recently laid-off friends and colleagues in their job searches. And, if work is a little slower than usual for a couple of months, the downtime gives us a chance to look more closely at our own business model and understand how we can create solutions that will be as helpful as possible to our customers in this new economic landscape.

Looking ahead

Whatever your business is, take stock of what you can offer your clients or customers right now, and look at how this crisis will impact your business processes and customer base in the future. If you’re seeing a quiet period, use it to strategize about how to future-proof your business and provide new solutions that will be useful to customers today (who are very different from customers last month, even if they’re the same people). Revamp your buyer personas and your overall messaging strategy, focusing on empathy above all else.

If your business is able to act with agility and identify ways to pivot in line with changing customer needs, you’ll get through this, hard as it may be—as long as you’re able to reassure your customers with honest communications about where you are and where you’re going next.

Kathryn Hawkins

Kathryn Hawkins

Kathryn Hawkins is principal and chief content strategist of Eucalypt Media. She has worked as a freelance journalist for media publications and managed inbound marketing and content strategy for corporate and nonprofit clients for more than a decade.

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