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Talking to your people

With Covid-19 dominating the news agenda and the majority of businesses facing great challenges just to survive the coming months, it seems now more than ever that only companies that can resonate with their audiences will thrive.

Communicating bad news
Workers are already being made redundant or having hours cut as businesses try to grapple with reduced income and financial pressures, but the way that they go about cutting staff numbers will have a long-lasting effect.

Since the introduction of social media, the need for crisis communications and reputation management support has increased drastically with sales and share prices affected by one negative post that goes viral.

Calling out heartless employers
During a seemingly endless scroll through Twitter recently, I noticed a link to a Google Document titled ‘UK Businesses Coronavirus Response for Workers’.

The document explains: “We are sourcing the reactions by employers both good and bad to coronavirus in the UK. Ultimately, the goal is to share this knowledge and organise mass boycotts of those treating their workers badly, and celebrate those who are enabling workers, their families and our communities to stay well.”

It lists over one hundred businesses, both UK and global, including the likes of Uber, Barclays, Tesco, Aviva and O2.

Poor brand messages
There is no easy way to inform staff that salary reductions must be made, that stores are closing, or that their jobs may not be safe in the future, but companies must strike the right tone or face scrutiny and potential backlash as a result.

Richard Branson is often used as an example of a master communicator, but he was widely criticised for asking Virgin Airline’s staff to take unpaid leave, despite being able to cover wages should he have wished.

Having initially remained silent, he pledged around £215m to protect Virgin jobs, but it seems the damage has already been done and few have been fooled by the ‘empty’ gesture from one of the UK’s billionaires.

Pret a Manger received widespread praise for its tweet offering free hot drinks and 50% discounts off all other food and drink for NHS workers, but even its response has been deemed ‘negative’ for cutting staff hours and wages.

The above are far from the worst culprits however, with fashion retailer Boohoo providing a perfect example of how not to react to a crisis of this nature by selling coronavirus-related merchandise including clothes with the slogan ‘wash your hands’.

Show some understanding
Now, more than ever, firms must show that they are acutely aware of the magnitude of this crisis and the effect it’s having on people in all walks of life.

As well as ensuring that messaging is consistent across all social media platforms, firms must also frequently communicate with staff to ensure that they are kept up to date at all times, adhering to the values that they promote in normal circumstances.

The health and welfare of employees must always be put first and companies that don’t understand that can’t expect to be around for much longer.

Written by Ben Appleby, consultant at agency Calacus PR

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