As I write this from my own quarantine, I can confidently say we are in uncharted waters. Suddenly we are all trying to figure out how to work remotely, what it means to be flexible and just what needs to be communicated and to whom.
As accounting and business advisory professionals, your skills – and your leadership – are needed now more than ever. But just communicating for the sake of communicating can lead to confusion. It takes a strategic approach to be effective.
Create a Crisis Communication Team
Even in the smallest of organizations, you need someone officially in charge of all communications, even if it is only two of you: a marketing professional and a professional team member (lawyer, accountant, etc.) . This ensures the messages you create are technically accurate (the professional) and written clearly, with empathy and in layman’s terms (the marketer). When news is changing as rapidly as it has been in the last few months, you should meet at least a few times a week to discuss what needs to be said and to which audience.
Tell your entire firm about this team and create a protocol for sharing information, but make it clear any mass communication needs to be filtered through this team to ensure consistent, accurate and compassionate messaging.
Keep Clients, Customers Informed as Much as Possible
Yes, you are not the only business or group sending emails, writing blog posts, distributing newsletters and populating social media with COVID-19 related information. But just because others are sending information doesn’t mean you get a pass.
Professional service providers are among the most respected people with which individuals, business and other organizations work. An absence of communication is likely to be noticed more than you expect. Clients and customers look to their firm as their own personal experts, and they look to their professionals to clear up confusion regarding shifting deadlines, the availability of financial assistance for small businesses and myriad other related topics at this time. Be that resource for them by sharing as much information as you can as often as necessary.
Don’t Forget to Communicate with Employees
We are all concerned right now, including everyone at your firm. Not only should you encourage employees to share information with your communications team to pass on to clients, but remember to send any external communications to them, too, ideally before dissemination.
Along with the actual post, give them talking points, reference articles and let them know it is okay to tell clients they don’t know something. Coach them, though, to remind them to tell the client or customer they will get back to them with an answer. There is no reason for everyone at your organization to Google for answers; be the resource they need so they can focus on their work and know if questions arise, they have an internal resource finding accurate answers.
Remain Flexible and Empathetic
Now is not the time for stoicism or to worry about what people will think if you are dressed casually for that Zoom call (though please wear pants!). People who aren’t used to working remotely are looking for human connection and a sense of “we are all in this together.”
At some firms, you may need to coach your professionals about dropping their guards and on how to connect on a personal level as well as a professional one. People are scared, and many of them, including your clients, may be facing drastically reduced income or making some difficult decisions about layoffs. Client phone calls and online meetings may be able to serve as a form of therapy, and we all must remain flexible to have these difficult conversations.
You audiences – and your clients, internal and external – will appreciate anything you and your firm can do to help them remain informed, reduce confusion and provide comfort.
About the Author:
Bonnie Buol Ruszczyk (like rustic without the “t”) is the founder and owner of bbr companies llc. After having built a widely recognized and respected marketing firm, bbr marketing, she decided to make a big change in 2017 and scale her business back so she could focus on what she does best and brings her the most joy – strategic marketing planning and outsourced CMO-level services for professional services firms and other businesses. Most firms can benefit from the input of a seasoned, experienced strategic marketer, but don’t need or want to invest in that resource full-time. This way business leaders can focus on what they do best with the knowledge that their marketing (and often their marketing team) is being managed by an expert with their strategic plan always in mind. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.