Communicating during a time of crisis: navigating COVID-19 comms

6th May, 2020

COVID-19 has brought new communications challenges to the table. Should I be communicating good news stories during a time of crisis? How can I ensure my messaging is tactful? What should I be saying regarding business continuity? Who should I be communicating with? These are just some of the questions we’ve been asked by companies in the pharmaceutical supply chain.

In this blog, we explore the communications challenges our clients are facing right now, answer some of the frequently asked questions we’ve been receiving and offer guidance on where to focus your communications efforts right now.

Your questions answered…

Is it insensitive to share good news stories in a time of crisis?

It’s important to remember that while COVID-19 is the priority right now, there are many other medical needs that the pharmaceutical industry is still working to address. In general, good news stories, including capability investments, appointments, and new partnerships, offer a reassuring message that the wheels in the pharmaceutical supply chain are still turning. Of course, each story needs to be considered on a case by case basis and attention needs to be paid to ensuring the messaging is not insensitive or boastful. In most cases it will be necessary to make some reference to the current situation. Careful messaging is key here.

Is there still an appetite from journalists for non-COVID-19 related content?

From speaking to our journalist friends, we know that non-COVID related content is still very much welcome. They still have magazines to fill. Of course, many are also looking for commentary on how businesses throughout the pharmaceutical supply chain are coping in the current climate. If you’re planning to contribute, we suggest focusing on sharing useful insights that may be helpful to others in the industry, as opposed to purely self-serving content to promote your own products and services.

I’m keen to share a reassuring message regarding business continuity, what is the best way to do so?

A holding statement that appears prominently on your website is an essential first-step for most businesses – even if it simply says your organisation is coping and adjusting to the situation. However, when choosing what information to include, it’s important to remember that different stakeholders require a different message, and in some cases, a different mode of communication. For example, while employees need to know the fine details of the safety measures you are putting in place, all might not be relevant for an external audience. There is a misconception that more detail means more clarity, but this isn’t always the case. Be clear and simple with your message.

The important thing to remember here is that not everyone needs to know everything. Consider the right message and communication channel for each audience.

How can I best communicate with prospects in the absence of trade events?

We have seen a rise in digital communication. More people are online than ever before, so first turn your attention to your own website and its performance. Are you experiencing an increase in traffic but a downturn in conversions? Review your website’s analytics and implement conversion rate optimisation (CRO) tactics to improve the user experience (UX) and encourage web users to convert.

Things like virtual tours of facilities, webinars, online roundtable discussions, podcasts and video content will be a common part of the marketing toolkit in the coming months. Many people have more time on their hands to consume these types of new media. Some industry events are also offering virtual solutions, including online presentation tracks, digital chat forums and even the use of gamification. You can read more about this in our updated 2020 events list here.

My organisation is helping with COVID-19 efforts, is it beneficial to communicate this?

Before communicating something, always ask yourself, why? Is your motive purely self-serving e.g. to position yourself as a caring or skilled organisation in order to secure praise or new business? Or is it to offer real value and insight to the industry, or perhaps encourage others to support in the COVID-19 fight? The same rules apply in terms of what makes good content – useful, informative and educational content always works better than an overly promotional message. That said, sharing news of your COVID-19 contributions may also offer a reassuring message to those in and outside of the industry that the pharmaceutical industry is stepping up to the challenge. So, don’t forget the power of a carefully crafted message.

Communications Dos and Don’ts: a quick guide

Do embrace the challenge of adopting more digital, creative communications e.g. virtual events, podcasts and video content

Do focus on your owned channels, for example making sure your website is well optimised and the UX is getting the right result will be key

Do focus on content that will educate and provide useful insights, perhaps removing lead forms from your website to expand the reach of content 

Don’t just focus your efforts on securing new business, use this time to grow your existing clients and nurture warm leads

Don’t over-communicate. Like all crisis comms, stick to the facts and don’t divulge too many details 

Don’t go silent. There is still an appetite for good news stories 

So, there you have it. Some practical guidance to help you navigate through COVID-19 comms. There’s no rulebook, do what feels right for you and your company. Address Covid-19 but do it in a way that’s purposeful and makes sense for your stakeholders. If you have any additional questions that you’d love some guidance on, drop Lindsay, our Head of Content & Brand awareness a line.