Before we all got blindsided by COVID-19, crisis communications was something most companies grasped in concept but seldom thought they’d need.

Not anymore. Everyone’s marketing has suddenly become crisis communications.

It’s not the kind associated with a gulf oil spill or a 737 that has design issues. Crisis communications was needed in those cases because companies had to quickly retain or restore public trust.

But this? You didn’t do anything wrong and the public isn’t blaming you for the pandemic. Yet everything you’re doing with your marketing right now is a form of crisis communications.

Except there’s no playbook. This is all-new territory, and just when you think you have the right message, everything changes again.

Most companies are using an appropriate tone by being informative, straightforward and available. Unfortunately, a few others are being ham-handed and tone-deaf, oblivious to how they’re coming across.

Here are some suggestions for communicating with employees and customers or clients.

EMPLOYEES

The First to Know

Companies always communicate with customers but sometimes forget to tell their employees what’s going on. Employees should be the first to hear news, because they’re not only fearful for their health, they’re afraid they’ll lose their jobs. They shouldn’t learn what’s happening at their company from news reports.

Hold quick staff meetings or send emails as soon as there’s an update. Don’t wait until tomorrow.

Thank Them (Again)

Your staff is creatively solving challenges as they work from home. Those who can’t stay at home are risking their health for the company. You’ve already let them know you appreciate their flexibility, but thank them again. Just don’t go overboard with rah-rah speeches about how we’re all in this together. We are, but pep talks won’t make us any less nervous.

CUSTOMERS/CLIENTS

Thank Them, Too

Your customers understand what you’re dealing with. They’re not only being patient, they’re rooting for you. Now, and again when things get back to semi-normal, let them know how much their support means to you.

Stay Current 

Details about when you’re open and other information could change often, depending on stay-at-home orders or other realities. So keep updating your updates with phone numbers and email addresses to make it easy to reach you. Get the word out using every communications tool you have.

This is No Time for Cleverness 

No one’s laughing right now, so be serious in your messages and advertising. Pictures of smiling staff even feel out of place. Review ads you’re currently running to see if they’ve now become insensitive. If so, pull them.

For example, a national brewer once ran a humorous campaign that featured “Real American Heroes” in oddball jobs. Shortly after the campaign’s launch, 9/11 hit and we saw that the real American heroes were police, firefighters and other responders. Wisely, the brewer immediately stopped its campaign and never brought it back.

Keep it Sincere

It’s good that you’re moving quickly, unless that speed leads to your messages sounding disingenuous.

One company has been running ads that say, “We’re cutting prices because we care!” Another emailed information about ways it can help during this crisis, then reminded readers at length that they’re the industry leaders. The message quickly went from being helpful to offensive.

Before your next communication, take 15 extra minutes to email it to a couple of friends who aren’t part of your company. They may spot something you’re too close to see.

Communicating during these unprecedented times doesn’t need to be intimidating. It just requires common sense and a clear head. Be detailed and prompt with your information. And be available.

Someday we’ll all get back to more aggressive marketing and funny ads. But now is not that time.