I’m sure that many people are feeling overwhelmed and scared right now and that some of us may be feeling like a “deer in the headlights” not knowing which way to turn or who to speak to.
I believe that one of the opportunities our current situation presents is to communicate well. I think that those businesses and individuals who create a clear and well thought through communication plan for all of their stakeholders will have a way better chance of weathering the storm. Every business is built on relationships and the core of any successful relationship is communication.
Below are nine key stakeholders that you should be talking to. My recommendation is to create a plan and timeline for when you communicate with them and pay particular attention to the channels you use and the tone of your communication.
Most businesses across the globe right now have their staff working from home which may be challenging for some. Consider setting up a short daily check-in with the team, encourage them to interact with each other and make them comfortable that they can share their concerns directly with senior team members. Many of them are probably worried about their job security. My recommendation is to be open and honest with them about the financial challenges of the business. I’ve heard some great stories where business owners have sat down with their teams and had staff volunteer to take pay cuts, take unpaid leave, do free overtime and more.
Whilst it’s important to be open and as honest as you can with your team it’s also important to set a positive tone and show strong leadership – getting the balance right may not be easy but with a clear plan and daily
“communication rituals” it is likely be a lot easier.
Many of us are having to cancel events. The communication process is usually challenging with confidentiality having to be maintained until a decision is made but I believe it is vital to inform your staff before going public. I recently helped a client manage the cancellation of a large event and, despite my recommendation that staff and volunteers should be advised before the public, many of them learnt about the cancellation via social media and were understandably upset. Set up a WhatsApp or FB group or send direct emails to staff to let them know first – even if it’s only a few minutes or hours before the news goes public.
How are you communicating with all of your sponsors and partners – not just your major ones? My recommendation is that, wherever possible, a senior team member picks up the phone. Share an honest assessment of your situation and plans and take time to understand their current challenges. If a cancellation or postponement is likely, go to them with clear well thought through recommendations and be genuinely open to their insights and suggestions before coming to a final decision. Once a cancellation has been made make sure you stay in regular contact to share updates and get a sense of the ongoing impact on them. Try to find ways that you can still deliver some benefits to them even if the event has been cancelled.
I believe that communicating with participants will be one of the most critical aspects of your plan whether it be advising them of a cancellation/postponement or engaging with them over the next few months. There is without doubt huge potential to create anger and resentment from participants as events are cancelled. Those events and businesses that manage the initial announcement and ongoing communication well will be best placed to bounce back. My sense is that some will go into their shell and limit communication with participants until the situation has improved wasting the opportunity to build engagement and rapport.
If you are faced with an event cancellation you should be considering a number of key areas:
- Crafting of your message including refund policy. Consider using a PR expert to help you with this process
- Timing of your message/announcement
- What channels you will use
- Monitoring and responding to feedback
The next few months, whether you have cancelled an event or not will present a wonderful opportunity to communicate and engage with your customers. Most participants will have many “spare” hours looking for content and interaction. What plans do you have to engage and place you top of mind when the season resumes with possibly a way more cluttered calendar. Will you be the event that suddenly starts communicating in June or July after months of silence or will you be ahead of the pack with a clear and ongoing plan that kicks in now? How can you help your participants and solve some of their problems?
Government Agencies and Venues
The knock-on impact of all the cancellations is likely to be a massive problem with venue and date availability once Covid-19 ends. Many of you will already be looking for dates to reschedule. My bet is that there will be significant amounts of confrontation with government agencies and venues with some organisers “demanding” dates. My recommendation is to try to put yourself in their shoes while they are probably being bombarded by requests and have their own challenges to resolve and ensure that you communicate accordingly. I have no doubt that those organisers who have always adopted a partnership approach with government agencies and venues will be best placed to get a favourable outcome now. If you haven’t taken the time to communicate in a win:win manner and build a relationship it’s never too late to start.
Many of your suppliers are probably also suffering. If you are in the process of a cancellation or postponement have you kept them updated and explored ways that you can try to minimize the impact on both of you? Are there ways that you may be able to work together to help each other? Even if you don’t need their services right now it’s not hard to pick up the phone or drop them a message to see how they are going. Some people seem to have the mindset that suppliers should be calling them. One of the first things I used to do before I went to bed after every event was call as many of my suppliers as possible to thank them. The rapport and support in generated in challenging times was enormous. Strengthening supplier relationships now will probably benefit both of you once these times pass.
One of the most valuable lessons I learned early in my entrepreneurial journey was the importance of communication in times of cash flow crunches which I’m sure many businesses are facing right now. I couldn’t pay a supplier who I had an excellent relationship with. He called me the day after payment was due and I sheepishly told him that I was struggling and asked for another month. He was furious and said to me “Chris, if you had
picked up the phone and explained your situation we could have made a plan ourselves but you have now left us in a really difficult situation and we can’t pay wages”. Right now, many of you may feel embarrassed, ashamed or scared of conflict and decide the best course of action is no action.
In my 35 years in business I have experienced extreme cash flow pressure on a number of occasions. In one situation, circumstances beyond my control created massive debts and the cash flow pressure lasted for many months. Each week on a Wednesday afternoon I would go home with a massive knot in my stomach and call as many creditors as I could to update them. Seldom was I able to offer anything more than “I’m trying”. A few of them got angry, one of them took legal action and I built rapport and understanding with the rest. Once it was all over and we found a solution I held a lunch to thank them for their understanding and support. Many of them told me that the only reason they had supported me for so long was because of my regular contact and honest communication. It certainly wasn’t easy but the alternative may have been far harder.
Family and Friends
We are all going to need to support each other during these challenging times and it is my firm belief that the more you give the more you will receive. What will you do to help others – family, friends and other business owners or perhaps people you don’t even know and how will you communicate with them? Family and loved ones, especially children, may be scared, frustrated and even angry and confused. My five year old son, Sam, already has cabin fever and can’t understand why he can’t have friends over for a playdate. I’m sure many of you with children are having similar experiences and its impacting on your ability to work from home. It will no doubt be challenging but I believe that open and honest communication, compassion and love will make it more bearable. The evidence out of China suggests that many marriages have broken up. Good communication with your partner may help ensure that the impact is limited to your business.
Probably the most important communication you will have right now is with yourself. What is your self-talk and what rituals and routines have you built into your daily life to put you in the best possible situation to have positive self-talk? At that same time have you given yourself permission to acknowledge “negative” emotions. It’s perfectly natural to experience anger, fear, confusion and frustration and rather than suppress them my
experience is that it’s best to acknowledge and accept them.
Most importantly will you have the courage to put up your hand and ask for help? Many of us will have times when we feel totally overwhelmed – it’s OK to ask for help. It may be asking for financial support, it may be for advice or just asking someone to listen.
There are already so many examples of amazing support in our wonderful industry and whilst it’s inevitable that we will sadly lose events and businesses along the way I believe that we will emerge stronger for it in many ways. Take time to reach out to those in need no matter whether they are your competitors, ask for advice, share advice or just provide a listening ear and support without judgment. We have all made mistakes and will continue
to – they provide our most valuable lessons.
We are an industry that relies on detailed planning for success and safety. Now is the time to create and follow a detailed communication plan to maximise your chance of navigating these challenging times and removing some of the fear and overwhelm.
I have been running a number of free webinars including a weekly Zoom forum each Monday morning and afternoon/evening. For more details and if I can help you in any way please follow me on LinkedIn, visit the Mass Participation World Facebook page or email me directly firstname.lastname@example.org.