Guide to ceo communications through phase 2 of covid-19 en
All around the world, governments, business and industry are rising to the
enormous challenge of managing the COVID-19 crisis. From one country to
another, certain quarantine restrictions are carefully being eased, while
others are still at lockdown stage. One thing is clear, after several months of
reacting and learning to adapt to the immediate impact of the crisis, we are
now reaching a new phase with its own unique communications needs.
During the first phase of the crisis, business leaders formulated and activated
their crisis plans to react to what was needed immediately.
previously set out what these plans should include in its seven step guide to
COVID-19 Crisis Planning. As the crisis unfolds, business leaders need to
adopt a more forward thinking approach, preparing to scale operations
back up and shifting from reactionary measures to making longer-term
This is the management phase between the containment of the crisis and
things beginning to ease and recover. It is an uncertain wait and see phase
with numerous crisis communications challenges for CEOs and business
leaders along the way. During this time, the initial panic has faded, but
confidence has not returned and more than anything, stakeholders want to
know about well-being, safety and business continuity.
Guide to CEO Communications Through
Phase 2 of COVID-19
Business leaders must navigate changes in business pattern, new ways of
delivering products and services, research new technologies and rethink their
marketplace to ensure they safely emerge from the crisis. Along the
COVID-19 crisis cycle of disruption, management and recovery, there are still
many obstacles businesses face, such as cost savings, lay-offs, furloughs or
other short-term and long-term impacts.
It is important to monitor the local and international picture to understand
what is expected as economies reopen sector by sector. COVID-19 is a crisis
beyond the experience of most business leaders who now need to strike the
right tone of caution coupled with realistic optimism and confidence. Taking
guidance from governments and public health authorities, leaders should
manage not simply the immediate the threat, but begin strategizing for the
economic recovery that will follow.
The pandemic has turned everyone’s life upside down and different
stakeholders now have different demands. Employees seek reassurance,
shareholders want performance and customers expect uninterrupted service
but with additional safety measures. Empathy with the worry of an unknown
future we are facing and providing reassurance should be the central
principle to all stakeholder communications at this stage.
an Inevitable Change
To help companies and organizations navigate COVID-19 successfully,
. sets out its seven-step guide to Leading Effectively Through
Phase 2 of the COVID-19 Crisis:
CEOs have had to adopt a new way of communicating that is more mindful,
sensitive, empathetic and adjusted in tone from a linguistic perspective. Be
authentic and human, resonating with the new realities for employees,
customers and the community. The pandemic has translated into a new
global language, a new way of speaking to internal and external
stakeholders who are socially distancing and worrying about what will
Employee furloughs and lay-offs may be necessary and will inevitably test
reputations and relationships. Announcing bad news is difficult in normal
times, but even more so now when it has to be delivered virtually due to
social distancing rules. As a CEO you need to frame announcements
carefully, treating people with dignity, fairness and respect. Reflect on ways
your organization has explored other options of reducing costs to save as
many jobs as possible. Show you care for your employees and stress that
lay-offs are not their fault.
Leading with compassion and empathy is more critical than ever. Balance
the need to drive business performance with the need to be sensitive and
considerate to maintain business health.
1 Mindful Communication
Through Phase 2
Employees remain a key stakeholder group that requires regular
communication as they continue to endure social distancing measures and
are beginning to wonder what a return to the workplace will look like.
. ’s Guide on Employee Engagement in COVID-19 provides the
framework for companies to adopt to keep their teams informed, loyal,
motivated and engaged during the crisis.
Laid-off and furloughed employees remain a potential reputational risk, as
they may take to social media to publicize their grievances. It is essential that
organizations treat them well from a reputational perspective. Employees
who remain will be fearing for their own jobs and judge how the company
treats furloughed workers. Internal communications messaging needs to
evolve from health basics to business survival and recovery.
Uncertainty leaves room for speculation and misinformation, so it is important
that teams continue to receive frequent, clear, and reliable information.
According to recent data, employees trust and rely on their employers as a
source of information about COVID-19 more than government and social
media. As new facts emerge from public government sources, with various
economies opening up again, information needs to be clearly and
immediately provided to employees in the context of the organization.
3 Internal Communications
Trust starts with transparency. In uncertain situations, many CEOs face
questions they may not have the answers to yet. Even if you are still trying to
understand the extent of the problem, be honest and open to maintain
credibility. Do not delay possible negative news that needs to be conveyed
and explain this in the strategic interest of the ultimate long-term survival of
Publicly listed companies have a special responsibility to communicate the
impact of the virus on their operations. How they plan for the uncertainty and
financial disclosures are watched by the financial markets, the media,
investors and analysts. Be transparent in communicating near-term
challenges and what you are doing about the problem.
We are navigating unchartered waters with consequences for many people
over a long period of time where you need to be prepared to make tough
decisions. Explain what decisions are being made and how. Show that your
leadership team is proactive. Use the crisis as an opportunity to review and
reinforce the organization’s long-term principles, values and mission.
2 Be Transparent
COVID-19 is a considerable new responsibility for the corporate sector who
now needs to team up with the government to restart the economy.
Collaboration between the public and private sector will also help drive new
solutions towards recovery.
The pandemic resulted in an overhaul of economic trends and public health
policies that needed to be implemented overnight. Governments have had
to rely on companies to step forward quickly to provide key workers, essential
supplies and services. The relationship between the government/public
sector and the private sector is now vital to navigate through the crisis and
ensure the continuity of the economy and jobs.
Neither businesses nor governments can do this alone, so be proactive in your
public affairs efforts at a time when governments are looking for solutions and
depend on the continued cooperation of the corporate sector in managing
the ongoing demands and consequences of the COVID-19 crisis. Building the
right relationships now will ensure you create a positive climate of opinion
about your company as being part of the solution going forward. Always
demonstrate your ongoing support for government policy and reinforce
public health messages and campaigns.
4 Public Affairs
COVID-19 has changed consumer habits, preferences and priorities. Many
companies are forced to review their current business model. There will be
new emerging trends and structural changes that can redefine how your
company and industry will be organized.
The necessity of operating differently gives businesses the opportunity to
create win-wins by finding partners with brand synergies and access to new
target audiences. Identify who is important to your business and the priorities
they have for communication.
Target audiences include employees, investors, customers, suppliers,
regulators, government and communities. Trust and connection with these
audiences will be central to the sustainability of your organization through the
crisis. Enhance the relationships with the communities in which you operate to
show you are rallying behind local, national and global efforts towards
5 Foster Connections
6 Lead by Example
Everything CEOs do and communicate is currently scrutinized by the public
and media more than usual. Especially around the way employees are
being treated and policies relating to austerity measures, such as pay-cuts.
CEOs need to show that they are sharing the pain whilst still having to perform
at their best in uncertain times.
Solid leadership in a crisis builds stakeholder trust at all levels and reinforces
confidence in the integrity, competence and ethics of the CEO. Leaders
need to demonstrate optimism, community, purpose, compassion and
endurance. Employees take their cues from the CEO, looking for certainty
and reassurance. Remain calm and embody the values you wish your team
to apply, championing the cause of the common goal of overcoming the
Stakeholders will not be motivated to invest in the future if leaders are not
demonstrably behind it. Act with calm, resilience, empathy, persistence and
strategic focus. Leaders need to demonstrate in their communications and
actions that they are working towards the destination of stability and the next
Every crisis has an end. Stay focused on the horizon, future-proofing your
business model and helping to define the new tomorrow. Businesses need to
take an assertive approach and explore how they can set themselves up on
the right trajectory for growth.
While prioritizing the wellbeing of staff and business continuity, CEOs need to
review whether their strategies remain fit for purpose. This includes considering
adjustments they may need to make given technological advances,
changing customer and employee behaviour, supply chain resilience and
the increased role of governments. Consider what happens not just today,
but tomorrow and beyond. The resulting wider and longer-term perspective
can help make the company’s emergence from the crisis stronger and more
Organizations that take a longer-term approach will spark innovations and
effective leaders will shape a meaningful story for their organization, invoking
a common culture and values. Beyond the crisis, expect to be held to a
higher standard about societal responsibilities. Emphasize a shared sense of
purpose and how the organization is rallying at a generation-defining
Resilient leaders are skilled at triage, able to stabilize their organizations to
meet the crisis at hand while finding opportunities amid difficult
circumstances. The current focus right now should be on supporting
workforce wellbeing and getting through the long haul. This is no longer a
reactive crisis response program, but rather the change management to a
new status quo.
7 Reshaping the Future
The disruption of COVID-19 has created urgent new needs and new, large
customer problems to solve which is a vast innovation opportunity. You should
focus on what is important to them, provide relief when possible and
communicate empathy rather than trying to create selling opportunities.
Companies need to review their communications strategies to be in line with
the current mood.
Now is the time to review your relevant communications, your media, brand
purpose and market changes. Share successes and lessons learned with your
industry and stakeholders. Highlight how your organization is responding to
the crisis with positive stories about how people are adapting to new ways of
working. A well-crafted press release, email, or blog can build confidence
and inspire. Focus on how your organization is rising to the united challenge
of contributing to the global COVID-19 response.
is an independent communications consultancy based in Saudi Arabia. Our
understanding of the local market converged with our global reach and knowledge enables us
to bridge our clients with their audiences effectively. We are aligned by the objective of filling
the gap in communication that exists in the local market. Therefore, our specialty lies in
building bridges that sustain relationships and create brand reputation and value through
innovative approaches. Our array of services includes, but is not limited to:
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