I just listened to an excellent webinar from a company called MCI USA
titled "COVID-19: Communicate Empathically, Plan Strategically," with Brittany Shoul
(pictured right) speaking from a sales and partnerships viewpoint, and Rachel Dillion
(far left) on member services.
It was fairly basic but in a good way—meaning that they clearly laid out positive strategies for working with your audiences at this special time. Here are some key takeaways.
Focus on the gap methodology. The plans that we all put in place two weeks ago aren't the plans today. And who knows what the future will bring. Focus on the middle. Our key stakeholders are experiencing a level of uncertainty that we're all experiencing. There's a place now between the current state (unarguably not great) and the future state. Make the most of the time now.
Have conversations with your customers. Shoul and Dillon said that the natural inclination at this time might be to withdraw, but the opposite should be true. It's the time for strategic conversations and important questions. Pick up the phone. (It's interesting that those of us who are working from home for the first time are getting the same advice—talk to people on the phone.) "How are you?" should be the lead question. It's a great time to be human and lead with empathy and understanding. "What do you need the most help with?" "What are your pain points?"
Empower your staff to have these same conversations and then share. Anecdotal information from the conversations/emails your staff is having with your audience should be shared. Everyone should be empowered to ask these questions. A short personal email is fine if you don't want to call and then listening for what comes next from them (after "how are you").
Learn from your audience. Sales teams are dealing with cancelled events. Look for ways to help them communicate that message. And how do we do that? Email or pick up the phone. Everyone is experiencing the same uncertainties and fears. We need to learn more about what our audience needs.
Get back to your core products. We're using that information to inform our current state but also to plan what we're doing in the future. We want to get back to the products we create and deliver for our members and subscribers. We must ensure that members are engaged everywhere they can be. Do you know the lifecycles of your products, conferences, publications and e-learning platforms? What do you have now that you can tune or adjust to solve your audience's current challenges?
Look at something new. Virtual events may be new to you. But you're in information gathering mode to get a stronger sense of what is needed. Take those case-to-case cancellations and pivot to something new.
Tailor information that is out there to your industry. What can we do now to positively impact the people we serve? The CDC is pushing out a ton of information right now. How can you take that information and tailor to your industry?
Create content bundles for people in your niche working from home. People may have more time now so create courses that you haven't been able to get to in the past. Social media might be something that people could get better at now and use. Chipotle is hosting Zoom open-line lunch sessions. Any organization can do that. Also special event streaming is becoming huge—live musicians. If you had an event planned with a high-level keynote in your niche, look at a live-streaming opportunity.
Explore your archives. It's a great time to dig into your files. What do you have that can be recycled and refreshed—maybe a white paper that approached crisis communications. People are also craving community now. How can you create that online dialogue? Also podcasts are experiencing incredible upticks now. Anchor, which is owned by Spotify, just launched a feature making it easy to record with friends.
Find new opportunities. Buyers and sellers still want to be brought together. Sponsors were looking forward to the face-to-face opportunities at your events, Now they're looking for new opportunities. How can you use your website and the advertising opportunities there to introduce new concepts perhaps, maybe video? The needs of your members are changing. Can you meet them?
Make something free. Good will goes a long way right now. Organizations are starting to open products for free and gather information that way. The silver lining of this crisis is that you're lengthening your planning cycle for the next event. That makes this a great time to plan and design something different. What does your audience want and need? Take advantage of this big time gap to recreate what you're doing. Sometimes when we do something every year we have a tendency to just recycle what we do. This gives us a chance to reintroduce new ideas.
Make tough decisions. The pain of the moment can create a time to change things that have been hard to change in the past. You have products that are declining. Usually we ignore that. Now is the time that critical decisions can be made, We don't know what the new normal will be. It could be very different. If that's the case you have to reallocate new resources. That means shifting resources away from events. Retraining those talents (people) to manage digital products as well. It's all about being flexible now, and it kind of forces your hand to be critical as well. It's time to make those hard decisions and maybe cut those low-performing products.
Do a risk assessment on your product bucket. Use that to inform future products. A reallocation of resources is something real that has to happen.
Talk to your audience (repeated). Customers and members will remember these interactions. Get comfortable listening.
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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…