Crisis communications – too much, too little, too late?

Questions to ask yourself before you hit send.

Should we contact our clients about the coronavirus pandemic? It’s a great question for every business to ask, and the first answer is, “it depends.”

So many people have been bombarded with emails, texts, social media posts, and virtually every other medium over the past week. Has every company answered “YES!” to that question? I’ve heard from my bank, the issuers of every credit card I hold, my car and homeowner insurer, a restaurant I once contacted, and a symphony orchestra in a neighboring city, to name a few. I’ve only glanced at most of their messages. The overabundance of coronavirus communications has even birthed a few memes.

An example and its lessons

So when should a company invest the time and resources to contact clients or customers about a national or global catastrophe? Let me give you an example. During the market crash of 2008-2009, I was in charge of investment communications for a firm with about $6 billion in assets under management. The firm’s clients worked with individual financial advisors across the country, and those advisors were the face of the firm to their clients. When the stock market entered free fall, advisors needed the insightful wisdom of the portfolio managers – the experts in economics – to pass on to their clients.

Working together with the investment team’s leaders, I began to send out a daily email bulletin that outlined current market activity and what might lie ahead. We talked about the best actions to take – or not take – in response, and what might lie ahead. Above all, we tried to keep clients calm enough that they didn’t make the mistake of selling assets when the prices were low. That morning message continued for months, until everyone climbed down from the ledge as the markets stabilized. Gradually we decreased publication frequency until the daily bulletin became a monthly report. The nationwide advisor staff loved the dependable messages, as did the clients. I remember one client’s words, “I don’t have to read it every day. Just the fact that you’re sending it shows me that you’re on top of the situation.”

“This time, it’s different.”

When a widespread crisis of any kind happens, we rarely look to history for precedents. We know, deep down, that “this time, it’s different.” But is it really different? What do your clients need to hear to get them through the immediate panic? How can you invest your time and resources in communications that matter?

Here are a few questions to ask yourself as you respond to a perceived or real crisis, whether in your country, your city, your industry, the economy, or somewhere else.

The questions to ask before you hit send

1. How does this event affect my clients?

2. How does this event affect my relationship with my clients?

3. What do my clients need to hear? What do they want to hear?

4. Who do they need to hear it from? (The CEO, an SME, their representative …?)

5. What is the precedent for our firm to communicate with clients?

6. What do I expect will happen if I don’t communicate with customers?

7. What do I expect will happen if I do communicate with them?

8. What actions do I want them to take – or not take – after they receive my message?

9. Will they be annoyed or happy to hear from me? (Is this message necessary or beneficial?)

10. Am I offering a way for them to respond or give feedback? Will I/my firm pay attention to that feedback?

11. Will this be one message or a series of communications?

12. If I choose to send a message to clients, how will I send it? (Email, client portal, social media, blog …?)

Are there other questions you should ask? Of course. Every firm and industry is different. But before you crank out a coronavirus message – or any crisis communications – to your clientele, take a few minutes to think through these questions and come up with your own.

At Storyteller Business Communications, we ask a lot of questions before we help you with your strategy or project. If you think of more great questions to add to this list, let us know! Contact us at or call 770-823-2044.