Recently the Sydney Morning Herald featured a headline, “COVID-19: This too shall pass … like a kidney stone”. Whilst true, in the meantime, people will in the short term tend to overreact, fanned by the media’s innate predisposition to sensationalise. The result will be that many will be initially paralysed followed by inevitable panic. This situation is not conducive to appropriate rational behaviour or appropriate solutions that could minimise the impact on our economy.

As a marketer and communicator, my interest in this situation is multilayered. In a previous incarnation, I worked as a marketer in the prevention of infectious diseases, namely vaccines at CSL Limited. I have taken part in various committees that planned for that inevitable pandemic. In addition, I know only too well the panic that can be incited by the mention of the words infectious disease, epidemic and pandemic.

The most important question is how business can minimise the pain of this ‘kidney stone”.

How a business responds to the COVID-19 issue could build or destroy their credibility and reputation with their staff, suppliers and customers. Like the various state and federal governments, businesses, no matter how big or small, should have a plan on how to deal with the various staff issues, how to manage customers and how to work with suppliers.

The key to the success of each of these elements is clear communication.

This seems like an obvious statement, but it is so often overlooked in the rush even panic to respond to the situation. The initial response is to cut things back as everyone is shouting about the inevitable economic downturn.

Maybe this is a great opportunity to investigate whether there are hidden opportunities in this crisis. Companies may discover innovative ways that will expand their business even after the “kidney stone” has passed.
An effective communication program aimed at your various stakeholders is an important key to minimising the impact on your business.

Before you embark on any communication strategy makes sure that most of your ducks are in a row (it is impossible to believe that they will be all put in a row). Remember they will also move when new information comes to light. Nevertheless, it is always easier to amend a plan that to address issues in an ad hoc chaotic fashion.

The ultimate outcome of the communication is to create confidence in your organisation.

  • The payoff will be less panic in the workplace which can only lead to better performance. Maybe it will require staff to be diverted to other activities.
  • Your customers will know what to expect and can adjust their behaviour accordingly.
  • Suppliers can make the appropriate adjustments to meet requirements without excessive financial pain to all parties.

An added bonus of communicating with all your stakeholders is that maybe they will have some solutions that solve some of your issues. At the very least they will not be blocking your efforts.

With effective communication, panic is removed, responses are far less reactive, and a climate of certainty is being created. It could be just what the doctor ordered.

By Izabella Kobylanski, Principal, Planning Results

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