Communications strategy – how to signal leadership in times of crisis

On the 23rd February 1981 there was a Spanish coup d’état which almost succeeded had it not been for a stroke of genius by King Juan Carlos. Wearing the uniform of a captain general, he immediately took to the airwaves, talked directly to the Spanish people, denounced the coup and called for rule of law and democratic government. The broadcast continued – day and night. The hostage-takers surrendered the next morning. The emergency was over. I learnt a lesson that day. The power of direct communication to signal leadership cannot be emphasized enough in crisis situations. During this coronavirus crisis, it is a lesson taken on board in particular by the President of the United States who has turned a crisis into an opportunity. It also has lessons for today’s marketers. Donald Trump complains about fake news and had stopped White House press briefings after claiming biased newscasters and reporters contextualize his message to follow their own agenda. He now does daily White House briefings to give himself a direct feed into the homes of the American people. President Trump probably has another agenda. With a U.S. election in the offing, the coronavirus pandemic may have brought in-person electioneering to a halt, but Trump’s reinstated daily coronavirus press briefings are unnervingly helping his cause and, say his critics, increasingly resembling his 2020 re-election campaign rallies. According to his tweets, since reviving the daily White House briefing his coronavirus updates have attracted an average audience of 8.5 million on cable news, roughly the viewership of the season finale of ‘The Bachelor.’ Numbers are continuing to rise – a recent tweet claimed nearly 12.2 million people saw his briefing on CNN, Fox News and MSNBC with millions more watching on ABC, CBS, NBC and online streaming sites. His opinion poll ratings are up. Trump is now enjoying some of the highest approval ratings of his presidency, and the majority of Americans – as many as 60 percent in one poll – think he’s doing a good job tackling the crisis. The lesson for marketers is ‘keep communicating’ during the current crisis. Your clients and prospects have new challenges. So be helpful and use your blogs to talk about solutions and ways to cope. Then convert them to opinion pieces for your Tier One media, who will also appreciate the copy. Their job is to be helpful to their readers – who are your prospects and customers. Keeping calm and communicating is a signal of field leadership and #BusinessContinuity. And no crisis lasts for ever. Judith Ingleton-Beer is CEO of IBA International.

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