Crash Course in ... communicating in the recession

The recession has left you reeling from one crisis to the next. And everyone - the newspapers, suppliers, your customers and your own people - wants to know what's going on. You could bury your head and talk to nobody, but you sense that's not the right option. So how best to communicate in these times?

by Alexander Garrett
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Talk more, not less. 'In uncertain times, staff need more information,' says Paul Brasington, chairman of the British Association of Communicators in Business (CiB). 'If there are long silences, they'll come to their own conclusions, so ensure there are frequent opportunities to communicate with staff and receive feedback.' Other stakeholders will be hungry for information to evaluate any risks they may be exposed to.

Be consistent. Discrepancies between what you tell the outside world and your own people may cause resentment, especially if you lay staff off and make cutbacks.

Tell it like it is. Says Ian Buckingham, who runs engagement fellowship Bring Yourself to Work: 'The priority of your people has become survival, so there is little appetite for the more luxurious features of internal comms, such as self-development or feeding their artistic soul. They're concerned with jobs and security, and they want the facts.'

Remember to listen. Communication is a two-way street. 'You may not have all the answers,' says Buckingham. 'It takes courage, but you need to listen to people's questions, and then go off and see if you can find the answers.' In a booming market, you may get away with simply broadcasting what you want people to hear; in a recession, it's vital to understand what they're thinking.

Choose the right channel. For internal comms, face-to-face interaction becomes far more important in recessionary times. Supervisors and line managers can play an important role here, says Brasington. 'Data suggests that employees have greater trust in their immediate line manager than those higher up the organisation.' In the world of external communications, newspapers and terrestrial TV have both re-established their influence during the financial crisis, says Tony Langham, CEO of financial-sector PR firm Lansons Communications.

Get the web covered. This is the first recession in which digital communications play a significant part. 'All big brands in the news need a social media engagement programme during this recession - for two reasons,' says Langham. 'First, to counter or correct criticism, and, second, to drive people to their own, relevant, website content.'

Spread the word. Whoever you're talking to, don't forget to spread the good news when there's some to talk about. It will raise morale, show people the way forward and create a sense of buzz in your organisation.

Do say: 'We'd like to keep you informed about how we're facing up to this difficult situation - and hear about the issues that concern you.'

Don't say: 'We've got nothing to say - and that's off the record.'

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