Brands lead communications with CEO reassurances as COVID-19 hits home

Latest brand communications lead with CEO messages of community support as organisations try to update and reassure customers

Brands locally and globally are increasingly turning to CEO communication updates as a way of reassuring customers of their credentials and support as the growing COVID-19 pandemic continues.

In what has become a flurry of communications over the past two weeks, brands across every conceivable industry category, from travel and tourism to retail, entertainment, technology, transport, food and financial services, have taken to email, website and mobile app-based platforms to reassure customers particularly of their health and safety credentials in the face of the global health crisis.

And it’s clear as the crisis escalates, brands are turning to the reputation and standing of their CEO to emphasise organisational work being done to cater to customer needs and manage operations.

For example, in a statement from Virgin Australia group CEO and managing director, Paul Scurrah, the brand highlighted key information about hygiene and aircraft cleaning standards as well as booking policy updates.

Another example this week is from Coles Group CEO, Steven Cain, who outlined updates on how the supermarket giant was working to try and ensure goods remain accessible for all as panic grocery buying hits Australian shelves. It was a statement both factual and reassuring, urging customers to think of the community as they buy goods.

“Thanks for your ongoing support and patience in these unprecedented times. We will get through this together,” Cain’s note ended.

Likewise, Woolworths CEO, Brad Banducci, has become the face of communications advising customers of limits on essential supplies such as toilet paper, flour, pasta and hand sanitiser, along with news of the supermarket’s plans to open between 7am - 8am in order to give the elderly a dedicated shopping hour each day to purchase necessary products.

“I'd like to thank you for your continued patience and for showing respect and support for our team as they work hard to support you and our local communities,” Banducci stated in one such post on 13 March.

For physical retail players such as David Jones, the emphasis remains on cleanliness and hygiene steps being taken in-store. In an EDM to customers on 16 March, CEO, Ian Moir, advised in-store services such as beauty room treatments and on-counter services are being suspended until further notice, in addition to additional steps between taken to more frequently clean stores and providing hand sanitiser to customers onsite.

The Art Gallery of NSW director, Michael Brand, exhibited a similar approach of reassurance in an email dated 15 March, as he advised the gallery has suspended all public programming for at least two weeks.

“We look forward to resuming our programs as soon as possible for you, and we are seeking your understanding and patience as we make the necessary adjustments to our programs,” the communication stated. 

“We continue to monitor the situation. We’re also working closely with the NSW Government to ensure that recommendations from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee are followed and implemented. We will continue to review and update operations in line with that evolving advice.”  

This is the strategy Sydney arts venue, Carriageworks, is also taking as it faces complete disruption of its program of events. A spokesperson told CMO critical customer update mechanisms are digital channels, EDMs, media, social and SMS. It’s also clear venue closure, now confirmed after the Federal Government banned gatherings at venues of 500 people or more, will impact event cancellations and campaign advertising in-market.  

“Carriageworks’ approach is to frequently update our audiences and stakeholders with the right level of specificity, transparency and advice in a calm manner,” the spokesperson stated. “Of course behind the scenes, Carriageworks is actively communicating with staff and stakeholders, scenario planning and ensuring business continuity plan is up to date.”   

Community support  

CEOs are also fronting a growing number of brand initiatives offering customers additional services and value-added offers in response to the COVID-19 crisis. In one such example, Optus CEO designate, Kelly Bayer Rosmarin, for one, announced the telco’s additional data offer of 20GB to post-paid customers in April 2020, and 10GB to pre-paid customers this week.  

These are unprecedented times, and we want to help Australians who find themselves having to self-isolate or work from home to stay connected,” she stated. “We understand how much it means to customers to stay connected with their colleagues, classmates, family and friends. Access to data is critical, so we are playing our part in helping the community with our additional data offer.”   

LaunchLink PR firm co-founder and director, Laura Blue, said the community emphasis is something she’s seeing across client communication strategies and initiatives.  

“What is common across many of our portfolio companies - from players in the HR, health, legal and marketing sectors - is a shared goal to support customers, partners and the wider community in some impactful way during this crisis,” she told CMO.  

One example Blue pointed to was from law firm, Moores, which has partnered with Our Community to launch a free epidemic/pandemic policy template for not-for-profit organisations. The template was downloaded over 2500 times in less than 24 hours. Another is CEO of health data analytics company, Opyl, who has put her hand up to help health services, governments or organisations struggling to create content or manage communities, online.  

And there are a range of video streaming and webinar services groups, such as video creation platform, Clipchamp, and video solutions platform, Shootsta, offering complimentary education and training to organisations upon request. Clipchamp is also offer 30-day free usage for businesses signing up to support work from home programs.  

“It is during these times that brands need to be especially considerate about what and how they are communicating to customers, partners and stakeholders,” Blue advised. “Are they genuinely aiming to help or are they obviously pushing product or another agenda?   

“Businesses need to stay true to their brand and their overarching mission during uncertain times-as this is what really counts and what people will remember them by.”    

Global messaging  

Globally, brands are also turning to CEO updates across communications, balancing information updates with words of support. Marriott International’s email to customers, dated 14 March, highlighted the latest advice relating to bookings, as well as before and during a stay, and was signed by president and CEO, Arne Sorenson.

“Our hearts and thoughts go out to the people who have been affected by this unprecedented event and we appreciate the healthcare workers, local communities, and governments around the world who are on the front line working to contain this coronavirus. Please know that we are vigilantly monitoring the COVID-19 situation around the clock and have precautions in place to ensure a healthy stay at any of our hotels across the globe,” the email reads.  

“In this climate, we know travel may not be your first thought, but I want you to know the safety of our guests and associates is our top priority. I want to thank you in advance for putting your trust in Marriott as you plan for future travels.”    

It’s a similar story for Hilton, with president and CEO, Chris Nassetta, signing off an email on 12 March aimed at reassuring customers about travel safety, flexibility, loyalty points and status during the worsening COVID-19 outbreak.  

The CEO of SaaS logistics tech company GetSwift, Bane Hunter, equally strived for a personal note as he outlined the group’s response plan to COVID-19.  

“We are writing this with the hope that it may help those who are looking to optimise their own response plan and sharing the steps, measures, and recommendations that the Company has undertaken. We stand ready to assist anyone we can in these difficult times,” he stated. “Our goals are clear: We are in this together as humanity and we will do the best we can to serve - especially those who are most vulnerable.”  

The strategy behind the messaging  

With predictions the virus is going to get worse before it gets better, it’s essential businesses get a crisis communication plan set in place, communications expert, Amanda Lacey of Popcom, said.  

“Now is the time to demonstrate your organisational core values and reconnect with your community,” she advised. “The 24-hour live coverage will end, but the virus and the impact it has had on all of us won’t. Ride the storm by communicating frequently and plan campaigns over the coming months that are creative and engaging on a digital platform.”  

Among Lacey’s top tips are:  

  • Being easily accessible for both employees and consumers.
  • Ensuring channels are in place to allow direct communication between both and relevant people within the business to deal with queries regarding how coronavirus is impacting your organisation.

“Providing them with specific contact details and sending out regular emails or newsletters that answer any of the questions most regularly asked is a good way of controlling the message, preventing confusion and allowing everyone to stay updated,” she added.

“Again, this is going to be a challenging time, and communicating regularly is pivotal to preventing panic.” 

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