By Khaled Ismail, Vice President of Communications Europe, Central Asia, Middle East and Africa at Tetra Pak

The COVID-19 outbreak has affected our lives in ways we never imagined. While the future seems uncertain and business is definitely “not as usual”, it is our duty as responsible brands and communication practitioners to engage with customers, stakeholders, and employees through empathetic and transparent conversations.

Khaled Ismail, Vice President Communications – Europe, Central Asia, Middle East and Africa at Tetra Pak

Over the past few months, many brands chose to remain silent and shy away from sharing content across their communications channels, which I believe is not only ineffective but could also be harming to their reputation and connections they’ve built with customers over the years. Of course, some campaigns and projects will have to be postponed but that does not mean the entire communications strategy should be put on hold. On the contrary, it should remain aligned with corporate goals and values while also being flexible and adaptable to the current situation.  

As a global provider of food and beverage solutions with a promise to “Protect What’s Good”, Tetra Pak’s Communications teams around the world are working hand in hand with all functions to keep our promise of protecting people and food while thoughtfully and compassionately communicating with our audiences during these tough times.

Motivated and well-informed employees are an integral part of running any successful business every day and especially during a crisis. Here are the five pillars of communications used at Tetra Pak during this pandemic: 

  • Golden source of data: providing them with global updates and information about the pandemic and the way it affects us and  the world around us.
  • Important and useful information: concerning people protection, helpline, travel…etc.
  • Acknowledgment: through a hashtag campaign called #tetrapakstrongtogether
  • Expert insights: regular messages from the CEO and the leadership team
  • Business continuity with context: on-going business stories, taking into consideration the current situation and remaining relevant to it.

Maintaining brand awareness and relevance is also important for Tetra Pak during these tough times, thus, we have refined our communications strategy to demonstrate to them our role and purpose in the current context. Examples of what we are doing to keep the conversation going with our external audiences include:

  • A corporate film demonstrating our commitment and contribution to the current situation, and gratitude towards employees, customers, partners and suppliers. 
  • On-going leadership messages explaining the company’s approach to COVID-19, insights on new ways of working and future perspectives. 
  • Announcements highlighting CSR and donation initiatives supporting the communities during the current situation.

In terms of channels used to reach external audiences, our approach is focused on owned and earned channels and engaging audiences through organic and genuine conversations through our website, social media channels and press opportunities. 

Our communications at Tetra Pak is evolving with the situation, and as a company that operates across many markets around the world, it is important for us to co-ordinate with our teams in each market to integrate local business and customers’ needs in our communications plans and actions to showcase community initiatives,  operation support solutions while continuing to build brand awareness.

In times of crisis, when information is inaccessible or facts are constantly changing, and when audiences are unsure about what to believe and what not to, it is natural for them to seek and expect transparency, guidance and enlightenment about the situation they are in. During these times, the way a CEO message is formulated, and the frequency of communication makes a difference in how employees perceive and respond to a crisis. It can help them adapt to the situation, manage their emotions and take actions that benefit them and their organization. The current crisis is pushing leaders to take tough decisions that need to be communicated carefully and effectively to diverse audiences. 

It is the first time in the modern world history that executives across the globe must deal with such common challenges. It sounds confusing and skeptical, and while nobody really knows what the future holds, we need to remember that fundamentals of effective communication still work. Identifying and planning for long-term goals, listening to and understanding stakeholders, and creating room for dialogue are basics of effective communication and need to be considered while dealing with any type of crisis. 

It does not stop at basics though. This crisis is reminding us that content needs to be shared not only in a targeted way but also a responsible one. It is teaching us that empathy is important towards all audiences, from customers to employees and partners, even towards competitors.

Some brands chose to continue sharing their regular content, while integrating COVID-19 relevant information. This demonstrates their consciousness of the current situation while still delivering on their promise. Other brands have completely shifted their content strategy to solely focusing on adding value to their audiences and educating them on preventive ways to remain safe. There is no perfect formula or standard approach to follow. What is important is for brands to align their priorities with the ones of their audiences, be flexible with the situation but loyal to what they stand for while being responsive to their audiences’ needs and expectations. 

We are clearly going through crazy times which no one expected or planned for, but rumour has it, that being out of our comfort zones empowers us to do things differently and make impactful change, and this is relevant to both individuals and organisations. Thinking out of the box to deliver your messages, while making a positive and memorable impact through your communication, is possible during these days. Technology has proven, once again, that it can make our lives easier during a crisis; with remote work becoming more popular than ever via video conferencing, live-streaming, and other social media channels! 

Yes, it is crisis time, but it is also time for becoming more creative in the ways we show love, appreciation and reassurance to our audiences, again, while keeping in mind the long-term business and reputational goals. 

Be strong and communicate, ‘this too shall pass’.