by Samantha Fuller (@samallenberg) Almost overnight, marketers’ audience changed. The news cycle moved to focus almost solely on coronavirus (covid-19) updates and developments, and the media industry was impacted as publications and publishers closing doors, media companies downsizing, and online media platforms feeling the financial pinch and economic ramifications even more, all making it harder to get our news out to the public.

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The onset of the covid-19 pandemic has converted the pre-2020 promise of many businesses to transform the way they communicate into a practical reality. Companies across the globe are employing technologies to communicate with employees and external stakeholders, enabling staff to work and communicate from home, and innovating to stay relevant during the lockdown.

Even for the most-technologically driven businesses, it can be challenging in these turbulent, disruptive times to continue hitting one’s organisational goals and keep teams productive, informed and secure, as well as the greater public abreast of the value your company can offer.

Taking a detour to avoid Comms Panic Avenue

Every business usually has a communications plan in place, even crisis communication plans for unforeseen events; however, those are usually for localised crisis situations that negatively impact or affect the business or at most, the industry. Covid-19 has made a globally transformative impact and forever changed the communications landscape, necessitating a change in communications by all businesses.

Our team, for example, quickly adapted our plans in response to this challenge and have become much more proactive in operation. We had to hit the pause button on our original strategic communications plans and even scrap full campaigns and events as they suddenly became irrelevant. We adapted tactics and messages that might be deemed to be insensitive during these times.

Additionally, we re-examined our communications messages, adapted our strategies and have focused on the fundamentals in order to maintain relevance.

Fewer messages, more-relevant announcements

Prior to the covid-19 era, we might have pushed out news and announcements on a daily basis, albeit in different countries at different times and, although this was relevant for our customers, communities and commuters at large, people have to adapt to the current environment — which necessitates news that is only relevant RIGHT NOW. We, as communications professionals, need to shift focus.

Beyond strategically considering what messages to push and which audiences to target, we need to further consider the human factor — as we as a country are yet to reach the peak of the infection curve. This means that there will be more and more people impacted by covid-19, whether it be by struggling businesses, illness or death, so how we talk to each other needs to be a focal point of this new reality. Aspects such as the tone of the messaging and doing your research have become paramount, as has keeping communication authentic and real.

For example, when dealing with influencers to help reach audiences, those of us in the comms industry must keep our fingers on the pulse better, ensuring we’re aware of any critical change and trying to be aware of influencers’ personal challenges. It’s not easily done but, in a world where many people are suffering, we need to find compassion in our communications.

Windows of opportunity

Apart from the current challenges and the change in approach required, windows of opportunity do exist. Many companies have changed strategies, and these positive innovations and bounce-back stories need to be told; they provide hope in a very uncertain time. We, as a company, have prioritised an adaptive approach and so our comms supports this. We’ve optimised and zoned in on maximising our access to technology to adapt messages to different markets at the right time, learning from data from both divisions, and monitoring what works.

Ultimately, those who rise to these communications challenges brought about by the covid-19 era will keep their stakeholders informed, their business in the news agenda and top of mind with customers, both current and in future. This will go a long way in helping the overall business survive the current challenging business climate, and emerge stronger from it.

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Samantha FullerSamantha Fuller (@samallenberg) is head of communications at Uber Sub-Saharan Africa, focusing on developing strategies, messaging and tactics to support Uber’s public policy and consumer communications. She also provides strategic counsel to the general managers and city teams. She has a passion for entrepreneurship, innovation and branding — specifically focusing on emerging markets. She has a BA degree from UCT, with an honours in comms and brand strategy from Vega.

“Motive” is a by-invitation-only column on Contributors are picked by the editors but generally don’t form part of our regular columnist lineup, unless the topic is off-column.

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