For brand and corporate communicators in some countries in Southeast Asia, Omicron may bring a sense of Déjà vu.
Countries with surging COVID-19 case numbers (or at least the potential for new surges) require communicators to review plans once again – and make new decisions about policy, brand activities, and how best to communicate to stakeholders.
Below is guidance and a list of suggestions – as well as a review of examples of brand and corporate reactions collected in response to the Omicron surge.
We recognize that there are varying levels of Omicron surges and impacts in Southeast Asia, and this guidance is really for communicators in those countries experiencing a rapid rise in case numbers.
We will update this list as more guidance and information becomes available.
Guidance for Communications
- Prioritize health and safety: As with previous surges, brands should openly and repeatedly prioritize customer and client health and safety over any short-term commercial concerns. Genuine care and concern for the well-being of customers and policies that keep them safe is vital for maintaining brand reputation. This isn’t to say that all brand activity should stop. Rather, we advise that communicators learn to live and work with the virus just as most countries will – but in a manner that puts safety first. One example: Even if governments do not forbid face-to-face events or large meetings, it’s wise to consider if meetings and events can be moved online to keep people safe. No brand wants to be accused of causing a spreading event for commercial purposes – particularly if the same goals can be achieved online.
- Be honest and transparent: As in any crisis, communications on the topic of COVID-19 require honesty and transparency. Stakeholders will forgive mistakes. Honest and open communications in times of crisis maintain trust. This effort to maintain trusting relationships is vital. At the same time, we need to balance privacy concerns. In our view, most brands and companies have already practiced this balancing process as related to COVID-19 – but with the potential for a new surge, it’s worth revisiting past processes.
- Content and screens: As we’ve learned in previous surges, it’s time for all brand and corporate communications to move to the screen. More people working at home and simply staying home provide an opportunity to gain more traction with your audience. Continue to update and share the ways your brand and company are reacting to the latest surge. But try to add optimism or positivity, when possible, to give people a break from the stress caused by potential illness, lockdowns, and isolation.
- Communicate your safety policies widely: For brands and companies that require public interaction, such as shopping malls, fitness centers, and spas, ensure you inform customers in every communication channel about the safety protocols you undertake to keep them safe. For example, if your staff are fully vaccinated and regularly tested, share this information with your customers.
- Enhance localization: In countries where multiple languages are used, invest in more localized content to create more understanding on vital topics. For example, in the Philippines, there are about 19 major local languages, with five languages used by most of the population. Brands should invest more in translating content to local languages.
- Experiment with new modes of communications: Keep communications fresh by using new types of media. Utilize tools such as digital comics to create more awareness and understanding. Digital comics make it easier to understand challenging content and make content more shareable too. This is especially useful when distributing information in this troubling time and can help people better manage change and safety. Brands can implement a one-off campaign, or, if data supports continuation, this can also become a weekly series.
Guidance for employee communications
- Getting the policy right: Communicators should have a say in how companies form their policies because policies have a direct impact on brand and corporate reputation. It’s incredibly important to have the right policies today. And thankfully, the silver lining of COVID-19 is a greater awareness of the need for mental wellness support, flexibility, and generosity in supplying extra support for employees. Communicators should also recognize that policies can (and should) shift and improve over time. What is fitting during this surge in virus cases may not be right for the next one. And with each policy change, communicators should be prepared to provide consumer-quality communications for employees to help them understand the situation – and build and enhance culture.
- Over-communication: It’s important that employees understand the company’s plans for managing the latest surge. Too much communication is better than not enough because employees can read and react to messaging at their own pace. Companies should have a variety of established channels to ensure that busy employees are reached via communications that are native to their daily work.
- Consider Pop-Up Meetings: To keep things fresh, try adding a new dimension to employee engagement. For example, consider initiating things like bi-weekly online pop-up meetings between employees, community members, and relevant government organizations or health representatives to communicate updates about the situation and encourage discussion.
- Promote kindness: At times of stress, tension, and isolation, company culture benefits when leaders promote kindness throughout the company. This may take shape in a variety of ways, but companies that make kindness a value will find improved culture and teamwork.
- Double-down on wellness: Finding new and helpful ways to look after employee well-being is vital. Consider conducting a survey of employees to find the areas in which the company can prioritize investments in wellness and make these investments in a way that they can be easily accessed, especially at times of isolation or lockdown.
Guidance for media and influencers
- Media survey: After the announcement from the Thai Ministry of Health raising the protective levels in Thailand, many publications started applying a WFH policy for their reporters. Given the fact that there is a rapid increase of new infections in Thailand, most media prefer online events with no physical contact at this point in time.
- Express your concern and care: Check in with key media and influencers to find out how the latest surge has impacted their work, but also just to touch base and see how they’re doing. If you have a chance, let them know that you’re willing to help and support them.
- Be ready with stories: Despite the surge, there are still opportunities for storytelling. If relevant to your business, stories promoting self-protective behaviors will resonate with the media. In addition, the media are still looking for positive stories to share with their audience to help offset fatigue from COVID-19 news. Some light and positive stories may be a good way to go during this difficult time. The media is also keen to know about business movements that could provide a sense of economic optimism. Any stories about positive business activities (i.e., investments, expansions) will likely receive extra attention.
- Weigh the risks if you’re thinking of organizing a physical media event: In some countries, in-person media events are allowed but brands need to think hard about this because the stakes are high. If you would like to go ahead with a physical event, a thorough regimen of testing protocols, masking, hand sanitizer, contactless registration, and social distancing should be in place. You may also organize a hybrid event in which journalists who are not comfortable joining in person can participate. In countries where a surge is taking place, our advice is to organize a virtual press event. This is safer for all, and still effectively distributes stories.
Community support and social responsibility
- Manage misinformation threats: Closely monitor conversations related to your industry, and proactively address issues related to misinformation or disinformation that may impact your brand or business. A playbook for managing disinformation and misinformation threats is available here.
- Strictly comply with COVID management authority measures: For example, in Thailand, the Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration, sets forth policy and guidance for the management of Covid. Complying and following the CCSA health safety measures is strong evidence that you’re a part of the community.
- Extend your kindness to your community: Your product, expertise, and know-how may help solve everyday issues during this difficult time. For example, In 2020 we organized an influencer-driven campaign in Myanmar to help feed those in need in the first wave of COVID-19. Leveraging your capabilities to support society will help form a strong relationship between your brand and, local community as well as doing good in the world.