The new rules of communication

An illustration of a woman, a man and a dog.

Soho Works members AJ and Lauren, the cofounders of Honest London and Honest Stateside, share their tips for businesses coming out of lockdown

As told to Jess Kelham-Hohler    Above image courtesy of Honest London    Tuesday 7 July, 2020    Short read

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With more than 25 years of combined experience in the communications and marketing world, London-based members AJ and Lauren have seen expectations of brands shift in numerous ways. In 2018, the duo decided to go it alone, founding their agency, Honest London and Honest Stateside, on the principles of building honest, collaborative and creative partnerships. Here, they discuss their take on how the pandemic has shifted the expectations for brand communications. They also share the five rules businesses need to keep in mind as we move into the ‘new normal’.

What were the most common concerns brands expressed during lockdown?
The most common concern is how to handle their messaging during the pandemic. A lot of brands did not have a crisis and issues strategy behind them, and therefore found it very challenging to communicate with their customers and internal audiences.  

The other big challenge was being proactive in terms of engaging with their audience – a prime marketing opportunity, which many also missed out on over the past couple of months. We have advised our clients to engage sensitively with well-curated, multi-channel content. Illustrating a sense of care and community during the crisis would be seen more positively, enabling customers to trust the brand more and build that loyalty. 

Simultaneously, the priority has been planning relaunch recovery plans that are ready to execute as soon as indicated by the government. This meant planning two to six months in advance and working out various scenarios. But having a plan in place means you’re covered for all eventualities.  

Do you see any space for opportunity in this uncertainty?
Massively. It’s the perfect time to shake things up and, in many ways, start from scratch. It’s a bit like setting up a startup, because the way of working has already changed and we need to be nimbler. For example, this is a peak time to increase your online presence. It’s a good opportunity to take advantage of less competition and cheaper CTR, whether that be on social media or Google ads. 
On top of the pandemic, we are also seeing a global rallying to support the Black community in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. Do you think this movement, as well as COVID-19, have meant that expectations of brands have changed? 
Brands have used their platforms to support social and political change for many years. However, there’s now a higher expectation for companies to speak up and commit to change in a way that we haven’t seen before. This can pose an understandable challenge for brands who are unsure about how to show their support, and worry about getting their messaging wrong. 

We’ve been working closely with clients to make sure their messaging has been honest, authentic and sensitive. Many consumers will take note of what your brand posts publicly as a reflection of your core values and attitudes. And, supporting equality and diversity is important to consumers.

But what really counts and what will make a difference is how your brand changes behind closed doors. That may involve educating yourself and your employees on issues faced by the Black community, or taking a step back and asking yourself, ‘Are we doing enough?’  

The five golden communications strategy rules:

1. Have a robust crisis and issues strategy
This should cover all channels, including PR, social and digital marketing. It’s time to be hypersensitive with regards to the consistency of your brand message. We’ve seen in the past four weeks alone how many brands are illustrating mixed messages across differing channels – this is damaging and will have long-term impact.

2. Prioritise common sense communications
It sounds pretty obvious, but it’s crucial to embed the rule of common sense. You wouldn’t advertise a supermarket showing crowds of people, when the entire world is trying to practise social distancing. Put yourself in your audience’s shoes – if it makes you cringe, don’t do it.

3. Keep your customers sweet
It may not seem obvious, but updating your business details and adding posts on platforms such as Google My Business during this period is important. Make sure you highlight your new business protocols, and ensure your FAQs page is highlighted and constantly updated. People want to go out and get back to ‘normal,’ but without the brand’s guidance on new and changing policies, this can leave your customer confused and disappointed.

4. Talk more 
Zoom is amazing, but who wants to sit for hours staring at a screen? Pick up the phone and speak to your teams and customers. Don’t hide behind emails and don’t be afraid to suggest a telephone call. The new working world requires a balance, so why can’t you be healthy and happy at the same time?

5. Choose an agency that has been on all sides of the business
This not only ensures they know what they are talking about, but also demonstrates that they have been in your shoes. It’s important to sympathise and empathise no matter what the challenge is.
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