Mar 27 2020
Beyond Media Interviews: Communicating During COVID-19

In these turbulent times, clear messaging and good communication matter more than ever. 

Whether supporting staff through this difficult period, providing customers with up-to-date information or offering the public valuable insights into the fight against COVID-19, it is important to get the tone, message and medium right.

Internal communications:

Maintaining visibility, reassurance and up-to-date information will be vital to the workforce, whether they are working from home or the company has closed its doors temporarily.

Many leaders are rallying their staff to help them get through the crisis. Motivating messages may help but be ever mindful of the tone.

For many firms, it is possible to carry on doing business during this pandemic. Video conferencing programs and e-mail has meant that most projects can progress as normal. Staff still feel connected and focused during this period of uncertainty. However, there are more ways that a leader can build a personal connection with his or her team and help maintain company culture than simply chairing video conference calls.

Recording a video allows you to talk directly to your teams, to motivate and to inspire. You should allow for your personality to come through here – convey empathy and understanding of the concerns of your workforce as well as confident leadership. If shot at home, the video can be edited remotely and with some simple graphics and extra footage added, can be turned around quickly and look professional. A well shot smartphone video is a far better option than something filmed on a webcam, where the quality is, more often than not, poor.

Podcasts are another good way to project a sense of community and allow people to learn new things, as audiences can hear a range of voices talking informally and freely, each participating from their own home.  Audio is also very flexible. With skilful editing and the use of sound effects, you can create something that is much better than a simply a soundtrack recorded from a home office. It can take the listener somewhere else. Some key rules for a good podcast: don’t make them too long – ten minutes is enough; be honest about who your best talkers are, and give them a chance to participate; remember who your audience are and what they need (generally that’s warmth, interest and entertainment) and be specific about your topic – don’t be vague.

Both of these options can be done quickly and flexibly, and both allow you to retain control of your format, message and tone.

External communications:

While direct communications to stakeholders are taking precedence at this time of uncertainty, there are two main circumstances when you may want to consider doing a broadcast interview:

  • You have some key messages that will provide useful and important information.
  • You are coming under pressure to explain an aspect of your business and do not want to hide from public scrutiny.

In either scenario, you should prepare as you would for any interview. That means understanding the key messages you want to get across, having clear responses to the big picture questions and a detailed understanding of the subject, should you be challenged on specifics.  

If your company has insight into the impact of the virus or is helping in the fight against COVID-19, there is an opportunity for broadcast interviews.

For example, if you are a data-rich business that can provide information that sheds light on how this crisis is unfolding, a financial company assessing the impact of the virus on the economy or a manufacturer responding to the call for more equipment for the NHS, this is information the public would find interesting.

You will be given a chance to get your message across, but you also will be drawn into wider political and economic questions as relates to your field, so ensure you have considered answers when weighing the risks of doing an interview. Keep the tone neutral throughout and ensure your message is limited to facts – do not lay yourself open to a charge of being seen to ‘sell’ or capitalize on the crisis at this time.

Given the current circumstances, you may well be asked to conduct a broadcast interview via webcam. Whenever possible avoid these, because as mentioned above they look unprofessional. The sound and lighting are often poor, and the background can be distracting or unhelpful. Given the fact that TV studios are likely to be out of bounds for interviews, that probably means you won’t be doing a live “in vision” interview at all in this period. That’s fine. The opportunity for that can come in time. Radio interviews are a good medium, as well as pre-recorded and well shot video.

Whatever option you choose, it’s important to remember that communicating is not the same thing as leading.

We now have a multitude of digital options to keep projects running. However, keeping a culture of leadership going is something completely different and that takes extra thought. That means taking steps into new creative formats.