As the COVID crisis started to unfold, Carol Schiller was tapped to lead communications for the IT Rapid Response team at Medtronic, a multi-billion dollar manufacturer of ventilators and other devices. She recently shared wisdom and strategies for enterprise and rapid-response communication as part of the UW Communication Leadership COVID Consultancy’s event series, Communication and Connection in the time of COVID.
“Companies need to move rapidly in the COVID-19 environment,” says Carol, faculty in the Communication Leadership program and founder and CEO of Rumble Marketing. “Data-based storytelling, a predictable structure and clear calls to action can be applied to rapid-response communication in any type of organization.”
Here’s how Carol recommends using these tools to your advantage.
Start with Data
Data is a key ingredient for effective rapid-response communications. Carol shared a hypothetical to illustrate this concept: As a communications specialist, how would she advise a company that makes disinfectant to respond to false claims that injecting their product kills the virus?
“You might need to respond immediately or you might not need to respond at all,” Carol says. “Let the data speak because you don’t know the answer.”
To collect this data, Carol advises looking to various departments. This could include everything from the call center, to the legal team, to monitoring how customers are talking about you on Twitter.
“When creating your report, don’t just say ‘our call centers are overloaded’ — That’s telling leaders, and you need to show them,” Carol says. “Even if you say ‘our call centers have 4,256 customer requests in April,’ that has data, but no context…Is that a lot or a little?”
Carol recommends having multiple data points to tell your story. This might include comparing this month’s number of calls to last year around the same time, looking at how long customers are waiting, and how many calls are about injecting the product. Looking at these numbers will provide a better sense of whether a company response is necessary.
Use a predictable structure
Once you have your data, you need to format it in a clear, structured way that’s easy to follow. Carol showed this example of a straightforward table comparing this year’s data to the year before:
“To an executive, this is extremely persuasive because I’m using the data to show you, not tell you, that we need to act,” she says. “The fact that there is a problem and the gravity of the problem becomes instantly clear.”
Have clear calls to action
Once you have a structure, the next step is having a clear call to action. In Carol’s hypothetical, she includes a clear call to action at the bottom of her diagram: Leadership decision: Approve $30k to build new landing page/FAQ within 24 hours.
She highlighted how using data, structure and a call to action together are effective because you can see:
- The problem at hand: People are considering injecting themselves with cleaning products, indicated by call center data.
- The risks: If customers have to wait over 17 minutes for someone to answer their call, they might use the product wrong, get injured and trigger serious legal repercussions.
- How to fix the problem: If leadership approves funding for the communications team to build a landing page answering common questions, this will allow customers to quickly get their questions answered and make it clear that they should not inject this cleaning product.
Carol closed the event with a call to action for everyone attending.
“Our fundamental job as communicators is to show don’t tell,” she says. “Bringing proof to the table is so much more persuasive. As communicators, start with that.”
This event was part of the UW Communication and Connection During COVID Speaker series, put on by UW Communication Leadership’s COVID Consultancy, which is offering pro-bono communications consulting to small businesses, nonprofits and UW departments during COVID-19. Learn more about the consultancy and sign up for future events.
Written by Megan Herndon
Megan leads content creation, editing and strategy for UW Communication Leadership’s COVID Communication Consultancy. She also consults with clients about storytelling and content marketing. She’s a part-time student in the Master of Communication in Digital Media program and works as an editor for Message Lab, a healthcare communication and content marketing agency. She is passionate about storytelling and all things outdoors.