Crisis Communications: Sharing your Message in a World of Uncertainty

Expert insights from Jo Geraghty and Stefano Marrone.

Sector Challenges

At Nucco Brain, we’ve been rapidly adapting to a number of imposing challenges in recent years: from the global financial crisis of 2008, to the more recent COVID-19 and Brexit. For the moment, development of high-engagement content that has become the crux of many corporate marketing strategies – such as photography, live action and experiential visuals – is off the table. So, marketers are being pushed into hyper-drive to find innovative, yet relevant and empathetic ways to connect with their audience. 

To dive into this very of-the-moment topic and to unravel ways that brands can prepare for future crises, we hosted an event on April 29 discussing this very topic. Jo Geraghty, Director of Culture Consultancy, and Stefano Marrone, our very own Managing Director and Founder of Nucco Brain joined us to explore how companies can maintain functional relationships with their audience during times of crisis and uncertainty. Read on for a summary of their insights.

Know your audience’s needs
In times of crisis, customers won’t respond kindly to content that suggests it’s business as usual. Online communications are more important than ever as audiences rely on virtual engagement with brands and companies, denied the brick-and-mortar experience as lockdowns continue around the world in an effort to eradicate COVID-19.

Stefano Marrone points out that firms are starting to see that “not all content needs to be super polished. Gen Z consumes rough, fast content in abundance, together with high-polished content. Brands should embrace the mix, especially when it comes to more transient content such as stories.” In times of anxiety, it’s  usefulness, entertainment and, when appropriate, levity that will resonate more. To effectively leverage reactive content creation, marketers will need to use topical momentum to engage with their audience on and around crisis themes, rather than holding out for production perfection.

As Jo Geraghty explains, the key is finding “empathy with the person that’s receiving the communications… [and] putting the receiver of the comms back at the centre,” rather than bombarding already anxious audiences with off-topic content. 

Keep your messaging consistent
In response to COVID-19, many firms have quickly kitted out their workforce with the phones and laptops necessary for remote work, but preserving the culture and communication style within the workforce is a much more complex task.

As a business, Stefano Marrone highlights, there’s no reason to change the key touchpoints at which a brand interacts with its audience just for the sake of joining conversation around a crisis. But what is vital, both experts agree, is keeping internal and external messaging consistent. Employees must be informed about the company’s approach in times of uncertainty before changes and commitments are publicly announced, fostering both workforce and client trust. As Jo Geraghty puts it, “a customer won’t love your brand until your employees love it first.” And how can you go about doing that? Creating reactive contentfast – is the way to go.

Companies are unable to predict exactly what form crises will take, but it’s essential to have a generalised crisis communications strategy in place that can then be adapted to the details of a situation as it arises. Discussing the design principles behind staying on-brand during a crisis, Jo Geraghty notes that employee wellbeing should be top of managers’ minds, alongside galvanising the workforce to maintain productivity and performance levels. “From an employee perspective it’s important to remember that comms in crisis is more than just imparting info… you need to mobilise your people.”

 Managing the present shouldn’t cost your preparation for the future
The onset of the COVID-19 crisis threw companies across the globe into unprecedented flux. As in-person business became a thing of the past almost overnight, offices with adaptable communications strategies dealt better with rapidly turning remote. 

Culture Consultancy has “been preparing leaders and managers for… these types of scenarios,” Jo Geraghty shares. Prioritising reactive communications strategies involves preparing business leaders for the ‘VUCA’ world, where decisive yet measured action is required at a moment’s notice. Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous aptly define the current circumstances, but it’s not enough to just be able to adapt to the present. Businesses that will continue to thrive must adapt to the technological and communication novelties of the present, whilst also scanning the horizon for future trends. 

Nucco Brain’s Stefano Marrone would recommend using the hypothetical scenario-based modelling many firms applied to their communications strategy, as well as their financial planning. Preparing messaging strategies for a finite number of ‘macro outcomes’ for a given scenario – Brexit, for example – will never amount to wasted work. In an increasingly globalised world, where the incidence of fast-moving pivotal events will only increase in future, it’s this devil’s advocate attitude that “distinguishes responsible and reckless companies.”

Admit mistakes freely and humbly
When messaging goes wrong, it requires an up-front, honest apology. “The brands that are behaving with all the elements of toxic masculinity are the ones that are missing the mark,” Stefano notes, namely those that are unwilling to admit fault or when faced with a world in flux. Radical transparency, authenticity and honesty are valued held in high regard by consumers of today, and no more so than by Gen Z, who will be voting with their wallets in the coming years. Disregarding the consumer desire for brand honesty is a bad idea at the best of times, and when we’re in a crisis situation, the impetus to ‘do the right thing’ when you’ve messed up is more pressing than ever.

What’s next?
We’re passing the point of no return. While navigating uncharted waters means no one can be certain of what’s next, we’re entering a ‘new normal’. This means that we have to learn to adapt faster than ever to rapidly changing crisis scenarios. To throw a positive spin on the situation as far as brands are concerned, times of hardship are also opportunities to come into their own and show consumers they’re serious about upholding the values of integrity, compassion and transparency. There’s a learning curve to manoeuvre, but here’s hoping we can all emerge with a solidified bond with our customers.

Want to learn more? You can check out the live stream of our event here.
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