Length: 9-minute read.

Quick Summary: Corporate communications can be challenging, especially in times of crisis. There are four ways working with an experienced and dedicated communications agency can help you better prepare for even the most unprecedented events and experiences.

How investing in corporate communications can help your business weather any storm

In times of crisis, it can be tempting for business leaders to try to hunker down and wait out the storm, hoping that the media cycle moves on quickly. However, taking this approach does little to win new customers or enhance the reputation of the organisation in the marketplace; rather, burying your head in the sand can potentially have the opposite effect and do further damage to your company’s image.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a recent example of a time when almost every business was forced to manage a disaster they weren’t prepared for. Some organisations rose to the challenge. They handled economic and social turmoil, supply chain challenges, and more as well as they could. For others, the messaging went very wrong. While almost every company the world over was in the same storm, everyone was in a different boat. Their partners, customers, suppliers, and more all needed to hear what was happening and how it could impact them. In some cases, the silence was truly deafening.

Ultimately, the best way to deal with any issue is through open, authentic, and accessible communications with smart messaging. However, this can seem like a daunting task to organisations that aren’t used to dealing with disasters. It can be overwhelming trying to not only get the messaging right, but also get it in front of the right audience at the right time, especially if you’re not familiar with the media landscape.

How a communications agency can help in a crisis

There are two key indicators that you need to reconsider in your corporate communications approach. The first is if your business isn’t used to dealing with issues and crises regularly. This means you’re trying to reinvent the wheel when it comes to communicating in a crisis, just at the time when you need your public messaging to be on point. The second is if your messaging isn’t landing effectively, which could mean that your current communications team or agency doesn’t have a solid grasp on your industry and its unique challenges.

The public relations (PR) industry offers a broad range of agency types, from generalist agencies to government and analyst relations experts to those with deep expertise in your industry. You need to work with a team that has extensive and proven experience in your sector, can point to a strong history of success in situations like yours, and, above all, understands your team and what you’re trying to achieve. Choosing the right agency can be the difference between weathering a crisis successfully or seeing the negative repercussions eat away at customer goodwill, brand reputation, and even profits.

There are four primary ways the right communications agency can help support you during a crisis:

1.Carefully crafted messages

The messages you communicate to your customers, suppliers, media, and more can make or break the company image, reputation, and credibility that took years to cultivate in one fell swoop. One misinformed message or tone-deaf comment can instantly change public perception of your business, and a mistimed photo on social media can cause people to start asking questions about your organisation’s positioning in a crisis. Does your current copywriting agency understand these risks?

It’s essential that you provide timely and accurate information to all relevant stakeholders, while also working to dismiss misinformation. You need a communications agency that truly gets it and can not only take your company’s key messages and carefully craft responses, but do so in a way that captures the human element to create a sense of relatability and helps you reduce the perception that your business is little more than another faceless corporation. A savvy PR agency will help you refine your key messages to ensure they are clear and appealing for the media and your audience. The team’s expertise and strategic approach will increase the likelihood of your messaging being picked up when and where you want it to be. A communications agency that is embedded in your industry will also help you understand which messages not to send, and which media to avoid if needed, to preserve your brand credibility and authority.

2. Leverage contacts for owned and paid media

Having the right message is only one element of successful crisis communication. The right corporate communications specialists will also help you to communicate your messages in the most effective ways to reach as much of your target audience as you can, at the right time.

Working with an industry-focused PR and B2B marketing agency means you can leverage their extensive understanding of how the media and news cycle works in your sector. You should also be able to leverage their extensive media databases, which will have been built over decades of working with your specific target media. And, you should benefit from their pre-existing relationships with journalists. Above all, your communications agency will know how to pitch stories or commentary, and to whom. Due to their daily media interactions with industry-specific and general news journalists, they’ll make sure your content is delivered via a familiar, reliable source.

They’ll also help you strike the balance between paid media and owned media, leveraging advertorial as needed to complement organic media coverage. This will help to ensure that your message is seen when and where it needs to be to help communicate your position to the relevant audience in a crisis.

3. Improved employee and stakeholder engagement and communications

In a crisis, corporate communications strategies need to consider a wide audience, far beyond your customers and the media. Employees and stakeholders such as investors, strategic suppliers, and contracted customers are critical to the success of your organisation, so it’s essential to communicate effectively with them during an issue. An experienced communications agency can help you to develop a comprehensive internal communication and employee engagement strategy that will help to reassure all your stakeholders during a time of uncertainty.

Sometimes, like with the pandemic, the nature of your crisis means you have little to no insight into how things will unfold in the foreseeable future. When this happens, the right communications agency can help craft a message that updates stakeholders and manages employee morale. Meanwhile, their deep knowledge of the space you operate in can help ensure that you don’t overcompensate and promise outcomes you may not be able to deliver.

4. Strategic counsel and support

Any PR and communications agency worth its salt will be able to deliver strategic counsel to support you and your company through a crisis. Corporate communications can be a tricky beast to wrangle; however, the support of professional communicators who know your organisation and your industry can ensure you have the strategic advice and insights you need to help make the crisis more manageable.

In times of crisis, business-as-usual sales and marketing tactics can come across as ignorant and ineffective. In a major disaster, you may not have anything helpful to add. It’s important to avoid being seen as commenting just for the sake of it. However, you must also be careful that you don’t ignore the issue completely as this can be seen as disingenuous. And, if the crisis could be construed as being your company’s fault, failing to take a proactive stance can look like you’re sweeping things under the rug and trying to hide. Again, the right communications agency can help you carefully and strategically build positive exposure and even generate new leads during uncertain times to maintain business profitability as much as possible without crossing that line.

A strategic communications agency can also deliver comprehensive media training to ensure anyone media-facing is prepared for the kinds of questions journalists will ask. Media training helps spokespeople understand how to stay on-message even in difficult conversations. Media training is invaluable at any time but especially so in a crisis. It helps your spokespeople understand what media are looking for, how to deliver messages that journalists want, and how to handle direct media contact. In a crisis, every single word you say counts, so it’s critical your spokespeople have been trained to stay on message while maintaining sensitivity.

Why corporate communications are your greatest asset in a crisis

It can seem like a quick fix to cut communications budgets at the first sign of strife. Indeed, many organisations see communications as a cost centre, and cutting budgets as a good way to save money. However, a trusted and expert PR and marketing agency can be one of your most valuable assets in a crisis, even an economic one.

The right communications agency will know its way around owned media, paid media, and the media and PR industry at large, which is essential knowledge in a crisis. They know how to craft a message that matters to your audience and the media. They can toe the line carefully to protect your reputation while revealing what needs to be shared. Cutting communications budgets at the time when you need them most can be counterintuitive, especially as corporate communications can provide great guidance and strategy in times of uncertainty. Successful communications strategies also don’t necessarily need huge budgets to be effective and can demonstrate exceptional return on investment as long as you’re working with the right agency for your business.

A carefully crafted PR and brand strategy can stretch the marketing budget, delivering mentions in key publications at a fraction of the cost compared to a paid placement. PR placements are also third-party endorsements and are therefore seen to be more reliable than a paid advertorial created by your company. Furthermore, by developing strong messaging for each of your audiences and delivering it via the most appropriate channels (including media, direct communications, etc.), PR can be extremely effective when it comes to nuanced, tailored messages.

Partnering with a communications agency for crisis support

Working with an integrated PR and marketing agency helps ensure that all your communications are carefully aligned and can pivot to respond to whatever crisis or driver they need to. Disaster can strike at any time, especially in a market landscape rife with competition and the threat of a cyber breach lurks around every corner. And, it’s often only when disaster strikes that you realise the agency you’ve been working with isn’t capable of steering your communications effectively in a crisis. So, it’s important to consider your agency of record very carefully to ensure you’re with the right team from the outset.

During challenging and uncertain times, considered and strategic PR efforts can help manage your relationships with customers and stakeholders to communicate your business value, while ensuring sensitivity. PR services can also extend beyond traditional media relations and, when leveraged effectively, can help you successfully communicate to a range of stakeholders to minimise disruption to the organisation.

Write Away Communications has extensive experience supporting businesses in the built environment and homewares industries, and developing corporate communications strategies that drive results, even in times of crisis.

For more information about the services we offer and how we could help you navigate a crisis, contact the team today.