How to Produce a Targeted Covid-19 Comms Plan for Your Business

communications plan - coronavirus
To think we started 2020 relieved that we had made our businesses GDPR-compliant and believing the biggest challenge for the year ahead was Brexit. Then there was talk of a deadly virus in China and, within a few short months, it became apparent that we were in the grip of a global pandemic.

No doubt your business has had its share of ups and downs during the year, and as we head into winter and towards Christmas, the only certainty we have is that Covid-19 is going to be around for some time to come, despite the potential vaccine.

As rules change on a regular basis, business owners need to keep themselves up-to-date and make appropriate operational changes to stay within the guidelines, so we asked Marta Kalas of Thomson Screening to outline how you can effectively keep your team up to date.

Covid-19 not only has a potential impact on the financial status of your business, it also increases the amount of work needed just to be doing the right thing by your team and clients.

I would suggest creating a selection of ‘tools’ to assist you in your daily endeavours to stay Covid-compliant. For example, at Thomson Screening we have developed a kit specifically to aid small businesses in this way, with training and examples of documents included.

Communication

You don’t need me to tell you how important communications are in ‘normal’ times for businesses. However, with the ever-moving goalposts of Covid, it becomes even more crucial.

Assuming you already have a communications plan, I’d suggest you start with that and then tailor it. Consider what will stay the same and then move onto what will change… then work out how to manage those changes.

Here are six elements that you need to incorporate into your comms planning and what you should do to adapt them for the current situation;

Element 1: Get the right information

This element is very specific to the current situation. There is so much information about Coronavirus circulating that differentiating between the conflicting and often out-of-date sources of information is a potential minefield.

Rather than spending time working out which sources are more reliable, I would suggest you go to the website of the generator of the information, i.e. the government website: https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus

This covers pretty much all elements of the Coronavirus and you can navigate to find the information you specifically need, such as what the current restrictions are, how to make workplaces Covid-secure and help available for small businesses.

Element 2: Understand the people you are communicating with

Be aware that your team, your clients, your suppliers, etc. are likely to react more strongly to what you are saying and often not as you might otherwise predict.

You need to consider that people are dealing with risk and uncertainty and their ability to process this is irrespective of their age, status or even intelligence. Some will look to the science or to be led by the government or other authority. Others will be naturally averse to risk at any level, while others still may be far more relaxed about things.

You need to keep this very much in mind when communicating and cater for the different types of people you’re speaking to. You may need to phrase your comms in several different ways to speak to the various groups of listeners.

The best way to judge what your audience is likely to want to hear is to listen to them and – more importantly – really hear what they want from you.

Element 3: Hear your audience

What are people most concerned about? What do they want to hear from you? Does your team need reassurance that their working environment is safe or to be supported if they feel happier working from home than coming into the office? Do your clients want to know how you are keeping them secure or whether you have a plan for potential delay in goods or services?

To find out what they need to hear from you, listen to the and hear them. Make sure they know you are listening and that your actions are in response to their needs. Let them know what you are going to do and why before you act. Don’t let poor comms lead to uncertainty or lack of confidence in what you are doing.

Element 4: Clarity

Be absolutely clear in all your comms. For example, if a team member thinks they may have symptoms make sure they know exactly what they should do. You don’t want them to come in so be sure they understand that and also that they know what they ought to be doing.

If the policy is that they should contact the office, ensure that they have instant access to the number and that – wherever possible – someone to answer that call and respond appropriately.

Are you asking customers to use hand gel and put on a mask before they come on-site? Make it super-clear, whether that’s through signs on the door, email or social media comms. Or do you want them to stay outside while you deliver goods they have pre-ordered, say. Again, make sure there is no room for doubt as to how that works and where they should and should not go.

To aid clarity further, make your comms simple and repeat, repeat, repeat. We have seen the government and NHS employing this simple, concise messaging that is regularly repeated.

For once, this is not the time to be creative with your comms. People do not want catchy acronyms or an entertaining message, they simply want clarity. Where you can get more creative is by highlighting ways you are helping specific groups. For example, how you are considering the needs of staff and customers with mental heath concerns or those with physical disabilities.

Element 5: Choose how to communicate and implement consistency

There are just so many ways to get your message out there these days; from the old-fashioned signs in windows, written memos and phone calls to websites, Zoom and Facebook, to name a few.

You can utilise as many of these platforms as you feel appropriate and think about who you are talking to through each platform. However, whereas you’d usually be varying your message for specific platforms and their respective audiences, what you need with your current comms is consistency.

I’d recommend you note down all the platforms you might utilise; signage, newsletter, website, people within the business, your social media channels, etc. Next, create a template for each communication that can be accessed and used to keep ensure consistent comms.

Of course, you must ensure that everyone that is likely to be communicating both internally and externally knows where the templates are and when they should be using them.

Element 6: Keep your comms up-to-date

The trouble with comms around Covid-19 is the speed at which things can change. The last thing you want is information within your comms that has become outdated, but that you have omitted changing. And it’s virtually impossible to put anything into place in advance – your comms are almost always going to be reactive – which is potentially excruciatingly time-consuming at a time when you do need to be reacting fast.

Again, you can utilise tools that you are already accustomed to, in order to make life easier and avoid miscommunications.

Firstly, it’s a good idea to ensure that you include links to the appropriate government sites in all of your electronic comms.

Next, ensure that the aforementioned templates are stored in shared and / or cloud files, such as Monday.com, Dropbox or Google Drive and keep a shared log of where templates should be and have been used so nothing gets missed. These simple procedures may take a little time to set up but will save a lot more in the long run: Indeed, each time you need to update your comms.

Now you have all your procedures in place it won’t take long, once or twice a week, to check everything is still correct and up-to-date – be sure to set a regular and non-movable time aside so it is always done. Then, where the next change is announced everything will be ready to go!

I know this is an uncertain time for SMEs but good comms really can help keep you on a better footing.

About the author

This guide has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Marta Kalas, co-founder of Thomson Screening, developers of the Thomson Covid-19 Test Manager software platform that enables testing providers to scale irrespective of where, how and what test is carried out.

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Sources:

  1. https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus
  2. https://www.gov.uk/guidance/nhs-test-and-trace-how-it-works#people-who-develop-symptoms-of-coronavirus
  3. Ethnicity and mortality rates up to 15th May 2020 in England and Wales: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/articles/coronaviruscovid19relateddeathsbyethnicgroupenglandandwales/2march2020to15may2020
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