The impact of COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the roles, activities, and capabilities of corporate communications. As news and updates regarding COVID-19 are constantly in flux, corporate communications will need to effectively prepare to communicate to its constituents and stakeholders. One way to do this is to consider structuring the corporate communications function to include roles, activities, and capabilities for communicating and responding to crises.
1. Establish a Dedicated “Crisis-Response Team”
- The Harvard Business Review (HBR) recommends creating a crisis-response team for centralized communication. HBR recommends that the team should be small, about five to seven people. The crisis-response team should include “a member of the leadership team, someone from corporate communications, an HR executive, and an expert in the area of concern.”
- As published in Insurance Journal, North 6th Agency (N6A) also recommends assigning a “communications lead” specifically assigned to crisis-related communications and inquiries. Depending on the size of the organization, multiple communication leads may be necessary and can be assigned based on regions, divisions, offices, etc.
- The Forbes Communications Council recommends organizations to have a top-to-bottom approach, stating that “employees want to hear from the leadership of their organizations.”
- As part of the crisis-response team, the communications lead would act as the organization’s “single source of truth” for all crisis-related communications.
2. Roles, Activities, and Capabilities of the Crisis-Response Team
- Delivery of crisis communications can come from the CEO or another organization leader; however, McKinsey & Company recommends that communications should come from a person viewed as an authority on the subject.
- HBR has outlined a list of recommended activities and capabilities for the crisis-response team, including regular meetings to monitor the situation, give regular updates to key constituencies, and to be the main source of information about the crisis.
- Creating a COVID-19 communications toolkit is a recommendation among several sources, including McKinsey (“Welcome Back Kit”) and Insurance Journal/N6A (“Information Toolkit”). The COVID-19 toolkit is a way to equip employees with relevant resources, such as CDC/WHO guidelines, company policies, and health insurance provider alerts and resources.
- In addition to the COVID-19 toolkit, N6A also recommends the crisis-response team to create a master employee Q&A archive that employees can access on demand.
3. Separate Internal and External Communications
- Messaging between external stakeholders (such as customers, vendors, investors, shareholders, partners, and the public) and internal stakeholders (such as employees, corporate leaders, and departments) will be significantly different from each other. FTI Consulting recommends separating internal and external communications, as each requires different and unique approaches. Similarly, HBR also recommends different communication approaches between employees, customers, shareholders, and communities.
- For internal communications, Insurance Journal/N6A recommends establishing employee communication transparency channel(s) that “enable employees to ask questions openly and have their questions answered in an expedient fashion by the appropriate internal leads.”
- Implementing digital tools and technology, such as internal social media platforms, text messaging, company intranet, desktop alerts, mobile alerts, and/or email alias (i.e., firstname.lastname@example.org), are ways that organizations can establish employee communication transparency channel(s). These channels can provide real-time updates and allow organizations to proactively engage with stakeholders and employees.
- For external communications, FTI Consulting recommends posting COVID-19 updates on a dedicated section of the company website, including 1) “policy procedures and business updates,” and 2) “press releases, company statements, Q&A, and FAQ updates.”