COVID-19: How to effectively engage with stakeholders


Gemma Dunn & Erin Lovett

COVID-19 is far from your typical crisis. In a whirlwind 100 days, the virus has affected every single business across every sector. The world has been impacted in ways nobody could have imagined, and as a result, everybody wants to join in the conversation and make sure they’re heard. Communicating effectively, therefore, has never been more important to cut through the noise – nor more challenging.

On Thursday, Barclays’ UK fintech hub, Rise London, invited Missive’s Gemma Dunn and Erin Lovett to host a webinar to share their top tips for communications during the pandemic. Here, we share the key takeaways that were presented to a virtual roomful of fintech businesses.

Why should I communicate, and how do I do it?

First, good communications will help ensure business continuity. Every single one of your stakeholders, from investors to employees, need to understand the implications of the virus on your business and your plan to get through it. Getting it right will not only allow you to limit collateral damage throughout the crisis, but even enhance your brand’s legacy. 

There have been a plethora of brands, however, that have got it wrong by choosing the wrong response for their sector and clamouring to offer updates and products which don’t take the bigger picture into account. Hassling journalists with news that you’re adapting to remote working (like everyone else) will not cut the mustard, and neither will leveraging the crisis for commercial gain. Acting without accuracy and authenticity will only accentuate the crisis for your brand.  

Second, transparency and trust are integral. It’s okay to admit that you don’t have all the answers right now – nobody does. Goalposts are moving at rapid speeds, and you need to be flexible. Focus on opening two-way channels of communication with internal and external stakeholders. For the former, giving them the chance to ask sensitive questions anonymously will go a long way in creating an honest dialogue. 

For the latter, Don’t rush to join the conversation if you can’t offer a genuine reason to do so. If you have something of value to add, though, don’t hold back. Starling Bank is an example of a brand putting out genuinely helpful product news, such as Connected Cards which allow people to support vulnerable individuals.

In practice, however, what does this all of actually mean? How can you apply the above knowledge to successfully engage with different audiences?

Investors

Above anything, investors will be looking for consistency. They will want to know how COVID is impacting your plans for scalability and revenue generation, and what your scenario planning looks like, but they are incredibly busy, juggling a whole portfolio and they do not need to hear minor updates every day. 

If you’re fundraising, you may be required to pitch remotely. Taking one of the most important meetings you’ve ever had remotely is intimidating, but remember that it’s just as alien for the investor as it is for you. 

Customers

As the sales cycle lengthens during a crisis, the cost of onboarding new clients increases. As such, retention is key – show existing customers some extra love. Let them know that you understand what they’re worrying about and go the extra mile where you can to put a smile on their face. 

Where possible, aim for familiarity. It’s only human to acknowledge the crisis, but making a dramatic U-turn on your tone of voice is going to panic people. Monzo is a shining example, retaining its trademark light-hearted tone of voice (see ‘social distancing bingo’) while offering helpful material, such as how Universal Credit works. 

Prospects

Sales funnel objectives might remain untouched by the pandemic. Tactics for meeting these objectives, however, may have been flipped upside down. Gone are the meticulously planned conference calendars and networking evenings, and in their place sit digital-only approaches. 

Your website and social channels are now the introduction to your brand, rather than a smile and warm handshake. Use the time to fully audit them, questioning the copy, design, functionality, purpose, and ultimately, the value. Seek help with this if you’re unsure.

In addition, it’s important to remember that your prospects respond to humanity, and this can be portrayed online, even if you can’t speak face to face. Simple, tactical changes, like establishing email addresses that use people’s names, rather than ‘[email protected]’ will go a considerable way. And don’t be afraid to use video conferencing to meet prospects – they will also want to see you. It’s a common misconception that the digital world is an inferior environment, but having up to date ‘meet the team’ pages or videos of your office culture will really help nurture the sales pipeline. 

Employees and potential hires

Your staff can be your biggest advocates during a crisis, or your biggest critics, which is what makes nailing internal communications so important. Ensure that your tone of voice is consistent during times of crisis with what it was before it, but also make sure it’s aligned to what your external team is doing. Acting disingenuously and putting on happy faces externally could alienate and anger staff if they are working tirelessly to support your business and are aware of a critical business situation you aren’t talking about externally. A good test is to ask yourself ‘would I want my customers or prospects to read this email I’m about to send around my company? Would I be happy to see it in the FT if it were leaked?’ If the answer is no, then it’s time to head back to the drawing board.

Digital Tools

Digital tools have increased exponentially over recent months, so make sure you’re using tools that are fit for purpose. For instance, we constantly hear how a large number of emails can hamper productivity; instead consider messaging platforms like Slack which allow for short, sharp communication. And make good use of Zoom to keep people connected, but do not use it to announce mass redundancies, like this company did. If you’re an enterprise-level business consider investing in a crisis communications platform like Sentinel before the next crisis breaks.    

In the aftermath of COVID-19, brands which have adapted and conveyed a sense of resiliency will be the ones of the best footing. Never has there been a more important time to communicate with authenticity, honesty and transparency.

If you’d like help to engage with your stakeholders during these unprecedented times, or if you would like a free hour of consultancy on pivoting tactics during the COVID crisis to continue to meet your business objectives then Missive is here to help. Email any questions or concerns to Gemma Dunn ([email protected]) and Erin Lovett ([email protected]) and they will be happy to offer support.