Upskill and Chill: Communicating in Uncertain Times Recap

A Frank Chat about Messaging During the Time of COVID-19

We held our first educational webinar about communications during this time of uncertainty. We heard from an awesome panel of experts including Meg Coffey, Hugh Stephens, Anne Shae and Matt Rosich.

Catch the video replay of the entire session at the bottom of this post.

Here are the questions and key takeaways that we learned:

Q1 : Give us a little bit more background on your business and how you’ve been impacted by Coronavirus.

  • “We’re lucky we’ve always been remote, so there wasn’t the learning curve that man others had.”- Hugh
  • Customers are working hard to pivot on a moments notice and the world is falling down  on some customers heads.
  • “I can’t think of a single person that hasn’t been effected by this virus.” – Matt
  • Be very careful with your messaging. You can’t even have the pretense of being seen as predatory.
  • Focus on branding and be in the background.
  • Be where your customers are, be available,  sell when you can but it isn’t your focus right now. Your brand is.
  • Education has been hugely impacted – some students are stuck away from home.
  • Have to be incredibly good at reading the room.
  • Be clear, be truthful, use your reliable brand and communicate as much as possible.
  • “People don’t have relationships with brands, they think they’re a really big part of people’s lives and they’re just not.” – Matt
  • Marketing and comms has to take into account geographic changes (lock downs, movement restrictions)
  • “We have people who are scared for their futures.” – Anne

Q2: How have your brand communications changed at the moment? More of them? Less? Have you stopped all together? Why have you taken this approach?

  • Even if you did incredible creative right now – it would get lost in the noise. Nobody cares, so worse than getting lost, it could get noticed but as tone deaf.
  • Every day – better or worse – the public is focused on the news, stats, and how the current climate effects their lives, personally and on a broader scale
  • Sales is not our focus. Be available, be accessible but not much else
  • You have to be really careful about ‘humor’ – not much is funny right now.
  • Brand comms have to be direct and helpful or not at all. The worst thing is to have a customer resent you because you’ve made light of such a dire situation.
  • This type of situation shows which brands actually put their customers and (and employees!) first

Q3: How soon is too soon to return to business as usual when it comes to sales?Q3a:Will there be a BAU to return to?

  • “This could take up to 3 years to get back to normal. If you think we’re all going back to normal in 3 weeks, you’re deluding yourself.” – Matt
  • The economy, marketing – it’s all uncertain and no one has a long term plan just yet. They can’t.
  • We have a new reality and no one has discretionary funds to spend in this new reality.
  • We have to get used to saying “I don’t know.” Be clear. Be comfortable with that level of honesty with your audience.
  • Developers have to push their limits to adapt as well – online learning, other online platforms. There’s a new market there, waiting to unfold.

Q4: How far ahead are you planning your comms at the moment? Have you re-forecasted things yet? Have you given thought to how your KPIs will change?

  • Planning communications should be a day by day strategy.
  • You can have a framework to work with but “you have to pivot almost daily because things change all the time.” – Matt
  • Communications should focus on how you can help your customers.
  • Have strategies in place for when consumer spending returns to normal so that you can hit the ground running.
  • You want to be front of mind and have the capacity to deliver once discretionary income returns to normal.
  • Stay consistent to who you are as a brand.
  • “Your brand doesn’t change just because there’s a crisis. Your brand needs to be ready to be helpful and listen to people.” – Anne
  • “People are going to value human connection” so focus on one-on-one connections, social, SEO so you can stay present.
  • In regards to KPI’s “anything that’s not negative is a positive.” – Matt

Q5: A Brazilian artist fantasized about what some logos might look like in the days of COVID-19. Some businesses took it upon themselves to actually create these ie McDonald’s and Channel 9. What do you think about campaigns like this? Are they trying to co-opt something fun or is it tone deaf?

  • Stay away from doing this.
  • “If you’re not helping and it’s not about your customers and your audience then shut up.” – Matt
  • People might be looking to you for comfort in this time of uncertainty, so stay the same to provide some normalcy.
  • The brands that are doing it right are “the quiet ones.” – Hugh

Q6: What’s your one piece of advice for brand communications at the moment?

  • “Do, don’t tell. Your communications are your actions right now. Realize it’s not about you as a marketer or a brand, so do and don’t say what you do.” – Matt
  • “Stay true to who you are as a brand. If you’re looking to help, how would your brand help? Do charitable work. But stay to your brand purpose and you’ll come out of this stronger.” – Anne
  • “Drop the tokenism. It is very much the situation where if you have nothing to say, don’t say anything. If you don’t have anything that helps then just keep out of it.” – Hugh


Q: In terms of speaking to an audience and taking a leadership role or engaging a community, what is the difference between “taking advantage” of the situation and “gaining an advantage” in the situation? 

  • You don’t want to be predatory but if your brand has been telling a story that people can connect to then you can gain an advantage.
  • Adjust the experience for the customer to make it more positive, frictionless and normalcy.
  • “This time can actually give you an opportunity to look at your internal structures and look at things like logistics, product, pricing.”- Matt

Q: When the world eventually returns to normal, every single man and his dog will be shouting to get that business and get trading up and running. What would you recommend the best way to approach this so you don’t disappear in the noise and be relevant.

  • “The brands that are going to come out of this best and have the most cut-through will have the most creative content and deliver that in a really interesting way.” – Hugh
  • Build brand loyalty throughout this time so that when things return to normal, customers are thinking about how great you are.
  • “People will remember who helped now.” – Matt
  • As a consumer, try to leave reviews for the brands that positively stuck out to you which will help them on the other side.

Q: When your audience doesn’t know much about your business or you haven’t built that community yet, what do you recommend in terms of starting that dialogue during this time?

  • Start where they are, focus on local and know that even though people might not be at your physical location, you can organize things like takeout, deliveries, online shopping.
  • “Meet their needs in a way that they haven’t thought about.” – Matt

Q: For those businesses that are unable to pivot as quickly as others (no deliveries and takeaways), and have gone into temporary closure (such as food and bev). What branding / messaging should they be communicating if they’re closed?

  • Be honest and transparent about where you are. Be creative and remind people of the work that you are capable of. “Think about what you can do when you do re-open for the customers who’ve supported you,” – Anne

Q: How do we negotiate cancelling or rescheduling our ads? 

  • Try talking to them and instead of pausing for three months for example, suggest adding three months onto the contract once everything is recovered. “Rather than taking the cash away now, you’re still getting the benefit of the spend but you’re acknowledgin that you’ll move the impact of that spend to a later time.” – Hugh

Video recording of the webinar

If you’d like to watch the whole 40 minute session, you can check it out below. (Minor stuff up with the recording having the speakers so small, we will fix with the next webinar!).

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