As interconnected and tuned into the news our society may be, oftentimes we overlook the value of communications. Especially during times of economic uncertainty and business turbulence, we tend to forget that communications is a strategic business driver. The resiliency of the global economy is being tested by ongoing supply chain challenges, rising prices, transboundary political conflict and the erosion of consumer confidence. Given this ongoing uncertainty, it is easy to laser-focus on protecting the bottom line at the expense of your business strategy.
While we don’t have a crystal ball that will predict the future, it’s important to remember that whatever the next few months may bring, the economy is cyclical. For every downswing, there will be an upswing, and if you want your brand and business to come out ahead, now is the moment to adopt a consistent communications strategy with long-term objectives driving decision-making. Approach this moment with opportunities in mind—taking the time to lay the foundations that will distinguish your business from competitors and secure industry leadership in the long run will pay dividends.
It may be challenging in the current environment, but it is important to remember the basics and focus on the big picture by keeping the following considerations in mind:
- Act with purpose: Establish a clear business vision and overarching strategy and keep communications consistent and intentional. Is everything you are saying and doing tied back to your purpose? Are you a company that prioritizes its people and acts flexibly with customers? We saw in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic that the businesses that weathered the initial uncertainty the best were the ones that maintained their sense of purpose and vision, even when the world was turned upside down. It is important to maintain engagement and dialogue and avoid a stop-gap approach to communications and relationship-building.
- Make sure your priorities are clear: You may have a purpose and a plan, but it won’t serve you well if no one knows about it. A recent survey showed that nearly 80% of workers are concerned about job security, with almost a quarter expressing serious concern. If your employees are in the dark about your business strategy, then it’s just as likely that your customers are as well. Take the time to ensure you have clearly delineated your business priorities and conducted scenario planning for the near and long term. Preparing for the unexpected will serve you well and help build trust with your core stakeholders, both internal and external, if you demonstrate that you are steering the ship with forethought and proactively anticipating ways to navigate choppy waters.
- Communicate early and often: Ensure you are engaging with your stakeholders, from customers to employees to shareholders, frequently and transparently on the state of the business. Correct misinformation and solicit feedback and ideas on your trajectory. It is also important to acknowledge the environment and the struggles people are facing to avoid tone deaf messaging. Supporting the business is not just a matter of money, but also retaining talent and building trust. Employees, in particular, are an oft-forgotten stakeholder in these times when businesses are more concerned with communicating about revenue and stock price. However, employees that feel trusted and invested in the success of the business are more likely to actively contribute to it and stay with the company for the long term.
- Continue to think proactively: Remember that even when the business is slow, issues can still flare up! Think of the outcry by consumers against companies for their support— or lack thereof—on political issues, or recalls across major retailers due to concerns of bacterial contamination in certain products. You don’t need a strong economy for an accident to occur or consumers and interest groups to be vocal on issues. Your company’s brand and reputation can suffer just as much during times of slow growth, making it important to continue to safeguard the business through a proactive issues management program.
Hindsight may be 20/20, but foresight helps companies weather the storm ahead versus looking back at how you could have been better prepared. Brands that get too caught up in the business during uncertain times tend to neglect communications with their internal and external stakeholders, which creates unintentional, negative perceptions that can have real reputational effects down the line. Even when it seems impossible to know what is on the horizon, this certainly isn’t the first time we’ve been at this juncture in the last two decades, and it will just as certainly not be the last. A strong communications function as part of your business strategy will help your business get through to the other side, potentially even stronger than before.