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Leadership Media & Marketing

There Isn’t a Crisis Communications Playbook

While organizations try to figure out how to respond to the current crisis, many of the messages feel generic using similar verbiage, symbolism, and even music.  A mash-up of broadcast advertisements highlighted on AdAge, makes you want to laugh and cry – not because of the emotions that it evokes, but because these brands spent millions of dollars to produce and distribute something that said nothing.       

Techonomy recently held a discussion between communications executives to explore the ways in which they are navigating these “unprecedented times.”

Martina Trucco, Micron Technology’s Head of Corporate Marketing and Communications, recognized that she would need to craft a message specific to its role in the crisis response.  Micron, a leader in the memory and storage industry, is providing products that power many essential services like information infrastructure, computers for distanced learning, and respirators.  Recognizing Micron’s integral role was not only important to customers, but equally important to employees on the front lines of manufacturing. (You can learn more about Micron’s COVID-19 Global Response here.)

Thinking about a company’s various stakeholders and trying to understand their needs seemed to be something that is sometimes easier said than done.  If done properly and staying true to core values, brands can come out the other side stronger.

Nestle Water’s Chief Communications Officer, Tara Carraro introduced the terms “purpose” and “authenticity” which continued to dominate the conversation. She discussed the need to identify key stakeholders and figure out how to support them. One of the Nestle Waters brands, San Pellegrino, identified a community that had helped support the brand and was suffering. Rather than donating water, Nestle Waters chose to make a significant donation to the James Beard Foundation to help restauranteurs. (You can learn more about Nestle Waters North America’s response to COVID-19 here.)

“The trick for crisis is being prepared,” says Copperfied Advisory founder Andy Whitehouse. “The problem is that the strategy and messaging are being written in the moment.”  Whitehouse, who also teaches crisis communications at Columbia University’s School of Journalism, said it should be 80% preparation and 20% execution. 

The group agreed that preparedness will require cross-functional collaboration that extends beyond the marketing and communications teams. From finance to HR, executives will need to work together to ensure that decisions are not made in a vacuum and won’t have unintended consequences that damage the brand.

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