A Communications Framework for Thriving After COVID-19

COVID-19 is having a devastating impact on our lives and the economy that will be felt for years to come. After the pandemic, businesses will be remembered for the actions they took now to help their employees, their customers and their communities. 

Companies that use this moment to rethink how they communicate with their main stakeholders will emerge from the crisis stronger. No one will be immune to the economic downside and loss of human capital, but the communications plans that businesses implement now will set them up for long-term success. 

I’ve spent the last few weeks speaking with our clients’ CEOs to understand how they are leading their businesses through the pandemic. The six-point framework below includes insights from these conversations and from my 20+ years in the industry.

The two questions to ask yourself

Your communications strategy should be driven by your answers to the following:

  • How do you want each of your stakeholders to remember you after the crisis?
  • What metrics will you use to measure the effectiveness of your communications with each audience?

Your answer to each should be no more than a few words. See the framework below as an example.

After you’ve completed this exercise, set a plan for how you’ll communicate with your stakeholders. Your post-pandemic playbook should address these six points:

1. Prioritize your team: communicate with employees often and openly

Your people are your most valuable asset. Many are distressed and feel disconnected as they work from home; all of them need a north star more than ever. Now is not the time to be absent or cryptic; provide the guidance your employees need and communicate with empathy and transparency first. 

During a crisis, senior leaders should increase the frequency and transparency of internal communications. If you typically convene a monthly all-staff meeting, consider shorter, more frequent meetings with a thoughtful agenda. Working from home can create a sense of lost momentum without the watercooler conversations and osmosis of energy and knowledge that more naturally happen in the office. 

I was inspired by a simple change that one of our clients, Invoca, made to inject a sense of shared energy into the organization. They shifted their monthly all-hands meetings to weekly show-and-tell sessions in which one team discusses an innovative project they’re working on, whether it’s a new product capability, marketing campaign, or HR initiative. 

2. Show your customers why they can’t survive without you 

Inboxes are full of COVID-19 updates from businesses. Your communications should focus clearly on the actions you are taking and the information that is essential to your audience. Sales and marketing need to pivot from promoting products to helping your customers.

Many companies are providing practical content and resources. For example, Gusto launched the COVID-19 Small Business Resource Hub to help its customers get the latest information and advice about critical resources like the Paycheck Protection Program. Narvar is offering its Simple Returns service for free to hard-hit retail customers. 

After COVID-19, brands will be remembered for being helpful or opportunistic. Being helpful requires being honest about the role you can play for customers and responding authentically with offers and information that put their interests first.

3. Plant the seeds for the talent you’ll hire tomorrow 

You may have a hiring freeze now, but you’ll be judged later by how you led your employees through this crisis. Your senior leaders and your brand should be active on LinkedIn and other owned channels, showing the concrete steps you are taking to support your employees and lead your business. CEO posts on LinkedIn have seen “exceptionally high engagement”  during this crisis as people look toward leaders for guidance. Don’t go dark at this crucial time. Show what you stand for as a company and signal to future employees that you’re a values-driven business that puts its people first. 

Consider posts that express gratitude for your employees or explain the measures you’re taking to ensure their wellbeing and the continuity of the business. Microsoft’s Satya Nadella has been exemplary, conveying the support Microsoft is providing to its workforce and the community. ServiceChannel CEO Tom Buiocchi is a model of empathic communication, demonstrating a brand that prioritizes its people and its customers.

4. Show future customers why they’re better off with you 

While communicating with current clients is your priority, your strategy should establish you as a critical ally to all businesses that can benefit from your expertise. Owned channels are particularly valuable because newsrooms are focused on covering the pandemic. Consider webinars that address specific challenges your customers are facing, and open them up widely so others can benefit. 

Seize this opportunity to show why you are the partner best equipped to help your customers through this crisis; your guidance will be remembered. 

5. Put your heart in the community

Technology firms have leaned in with meaningful contributions to address the challenges from COVID-19, providing tools, services and expertise. Ginkgo Bioworks, for example, is donating $25M of resources in its R&D facility to support teams working to cure and treat COVID-19 infections. Merit, an identity verification platform, is providing its service for free to states so they can verify medical licenses quickly and get more critical health workers in the field. There are many examples of this.

Not every startup has the capacity to commit money or human capital, but every leader should reflect on whether they can support their community in an authentic way. Don’t view this as a PR opportunity but as a way to provide genuine help in a time of need. Investments in your community will pay off later.

6. Demonstrate the resilience and adaptability that investors crave

Investment activity continues even in the current climate. Just last month, New Enterprise Associates closed a new, $3.6 billion fund. VC firms remain well funded and will invest in companies they perceive to have resilient business models and cultures. Whether or not you are actively raising money, now is the time to communicate that you can thrive in adverse conditions.

Lead with communications that show why your customers continue to depend on you. Boasting about your business momentum right now is tone-deaf, but using your blog and social channels to highlight product benefits that are especially useful in this crisis helps your customers while signaling your value to investors. In addition, there’s a media appetite for stories about what the future looks like and how businesses are adapting; contributing a bold point-of-view to these stories will demonstrate your resilience and creativity. 

Use your communications to show investors that you are moving with a purpose, not hunkered down in fear. This is a time to exhibit strength and adaptability.

The bottom line

The months ahead will be brutally challenging for some startups, but building a communications plan that speaks to your key audiences will help your business emerge stronger from this pandemic. Be transparent, positive and deliberate, and remember these guidelines.

I look forward to seeing you quickly rebound on the other side.