July 20, 2020  |  Brianna McKinney

Communicating Through Difficult Times

During times of difficulty, whether it be a pandemic, recession, political crisis, or all of the above, keeping your business relevant to your customers, clients, and/or donors requires extreme creativity, transparency, and stepping out of your comfort zone.

In these unprecedented times, many, if not all, companies have been forced to reinvent themselves – learning new technologies and ways to communicate, how they do their work from a remote environment, and even how they provide services to their clients, all while managing their own challenges at home.

Being in quarantine has forced this innovation for the masses, which has made people rethink what success looks like, ultimately making them shift their communication strategies to meet new objectives. 

Don’t stop asking 

Yes, for-profit companies and nonprofit organizations are different, but in our current climate, they face many more similarities than ever before. Many are cash strapped – reporting decreased sales and/or donations, facing layoffs, furloughs, pay cuts, and grappling with the idea of closing doors.

And, it’s not just you. We’re all in the same boat. So, what do we do? How do you ask for help when everyone is struggling? 

I’ve heard time and again that our clients feel selfish asking for money. Whether they are promoting a new product in the marketplace or reaching out to their donor base, it doesn’t feel good to ask others to part with their hard-earned money. What if someone in their family has coronavirus? What if they just lost their job?  

My advice? It’s okay to ask. And, it’s okay to be specific in your ask. People are still spending money, some even more so – think retail therapy. I have heard from many in my network that they want to help, but are feeling overwhelmed with where to start. So, don’t stop asking or promoting. People still need things. People still want to give back.

So, when is it okay to begin asking? Now!

With initial shock and pandemic paralyzation behind us, people are restless, businesses are reopening and continue to move forward. People that have the means to do so are spending money, especially on products and services that get them outdoors. Try finding any product related to outdoor activities and it’s nearly impossible to purchase something in-stock.

Consumers are spending, but their spending has shifted slightly to accommodate the pandemic. Consider looking at your products/services and shifting how you position them to make them relevant to consumers today.

Although some nonprofits have very sadly had to close their doors, many others are providing support services that are needed now more than ever, given the volume of people placed in challenging situations due to the pandemic.

Others have had to shift their service offerings and the ways they deliver support to accommodate quarantine. With many people looking for ways to support or take action, these are times to focus on communicating specific needs. Move forward and make your ask, but do so in a relevant and meaningful way.

A new messaging foundation

As you consider reframing your messaging to be relevant to current times, don’t focus on what you do, but rather the impacts your company or organization makes for your clients, customers, and community. 

Take this time to focus on your ‘why’.

Why are you doing what you do? What initially drew you to the work you’re doing? Why do you keep going? What would be missing if your organization didn’t exist?

With all that’s going on between the pandemic, rise in unemployment, political unrest, and social justice, is your product or service relevant? If it’s not, think about what your community would look like if your organization wasn’t around when people can once again enjoy what you have to offer.

How is the idea of what your organization provides the community providing hope and something to look forward to during this time? What is it about how you do things that make you stand out from your competition? Then, focus on your vision – where you want to go, who you want to be.

As you consider all of these questions and begin your messaging work, make sure to take the time to focus on optimistic messaging, not necessarily messages of positivity. Positivity can often be the denial of reality; everything’s fine over here!

Saying things are good even when they’re not might have a negative impact. Optimism is the belief that the future is positive; acknowledging the present reality, but believing there’s a light at the end of the tunnel that we’re working towards. More than ever, people need optimism over positivity. 

It’s okay to acknowledge your uncertainty, but be transparent with your customers or donors about your organization’s commitment to your current challenges, whether it’s around staffing, services, etc. Share how you’re supporting your team and your community, and how others can join you in those efforts by making a donation or purchasing a product or service. And lastly, share your plans for the future.

If you’re a nonprofit raising funds for your organization, make sure your donors know what you’re doing and where you’re going. They will invest if you have a solid plan. Make your ask, but be specific and measurable. 

Responding to a crisis

This time of crisis has also made many companies begin to think about or rethink how they communicate during a crisis. Unfortunately, Bloom Communications has been involved with multiple clients during these challenging times to support and create COVID-specific crisis communication plans, to support clients having to share the sad news of closing their doors or helping respond to national and local media scrutiny.

It’s not the right time to hire a PR agency to create a crisis plan for your organization when the crisis is already happening. Whatever the need, I always encourage clients to be proactive and have a crisis communications plan in place (think of it like an insurance plan – you don’t know you need it until you do) to avoid last-minute scrambling during times when energy is needed elsewhere.

Final thoughts

I’ve had many questions come up during discussions with clients and community partners. My advice to many has been the same. Don’t be afraid to try something new. Adjust, rethink, pivot. If you don’t ask, you won’t receive. Be honest and transparent in your communications, plan ahead, but be flexible. 

We have a ways to go, but I have seen some incredible successes by harnessing creativity, rethinking ways of doing things, and communicating openly and honestly with your clients/customer base.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help and forge on. We’re in this together.

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