Corporate communications in the COVID-19 crisis

Richard AndersonGuest blog for UKI2S by Richard Anderson, Managing Partner, Sciad Communications

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, science-based companies are having to adjust their communications strategies

Many start-ups and SMEs involved in commercialising scientific research are trying to hang on to some semblance of normality in these uniquely challenging times. Some are operating with staff dispersed across the country, often in home-offices, trying to preserve their teams and sustain their businesses. They need to continue to innovate where possible, keeping labs open while maintaining social distancing, in some cases products and services have to be delivered to customers and most importantly, staff have to be protected, all while keeping investors on side. Timing is everything – the duration of the enforced measures is affecting every aspect of how businesses operate and will determine how many stay afloat.

Balance is essential

Should we be silent if we’re not contributing directly to fighting COVID-19? For companies to survive, they must keep their customers, staff, investors, suppliers and all other stakeholders informed of their position and how they’re operating. This is the time that businesses need to open up to their staff, in a way they never have before, and discuss the challenges that the company is facing and the measures they’re putting in place to try to protect staff and their future. In unity there’s strength – teams can re-focus, bring new fresh thinking and provide new value not seen before.

How should businesses be communicating at this time?

Business leaders need to be conscious that, right now, no-one wants to be sold to, even if you’re selling COVID-19 PCR test kits – unless you’re working in support of the NHS. This is the time to adapt. Here are five simple considerations to help businesses prioritise corporate and internal communications around COVID-19:

  1. If you haven’t already done so, prepare a list of all the stakeholders you need to inform about how the business is operating right now and its focus for the coming weeks e.g. staff, customers, suppliers, partners, shareholders, regulators.
  2. Decide how often you will communicate – what do each of the stakeholder groups expect and what is realistic for you to write, create and distribute? Who will be responsible for producing the communication and how will you get it out? Should you be using more interactive formats to stay engaged – webinars, live stream Q&A etc?
  3. How are you showing staff that you understand their concerns? What specific measures can your business implement to reassure staff that you have their interests, health and well-being as top priority?
  4. Have you planned a series of key scenarios and the potential impact of each on the business, and importantly how the business will operate in each scenario and what it will you need to say and do?
  5. Does everything you have planned, in terms of the business’s reaction to the COVID-19 restrictions and guidance, meet your company’s values?

And a couple of simple tips to help you maintain your company brand:

  • Forget selling, give people something of value – This could be your professional insight on something, a piece of new research you’ve found inspiring or a new discovery the company has made that could save customers time or money. If you’re unable to deliver the service or goods you usually would, be honest about it and inform customers of the timelines you are working toward. Can you help local or national charities or support your team to do so? Two UKI2S portfolio companies are already helping out. Cell preservation specialist, Atelerix, is making its technology and products available to all scientists directly involved in COVID-19 research (http://tiny.cc/z9kqmz) and Eagle Genomics is offering its platform to governments to collect and analyse data (http://tiny.cc/helqmz).
  • Get visual – We’re all being bombarded by news and information and it’s hard to detach yourself. Instead of pushing out written communication, try boiling down how you/the company is feeling, operating and planning into a single image or word. The restrictions and measures implemented by the Government to fight COVID-19 are out of your control. How you react has never been more important, for yourself, your family, your staff, your business and your brand.

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