06 | 29 | 2020

Talk About a Crisis: Part 1

Corporate Communications Leaders Share How They’ve Navigated COVID-19
Written by Libby Graham
Corporate Comms | Strategy


06 | 29 | 2020

Talk About a Crisis: Part 1

Corporate Communications Leaders Share How They’ve Navigated COVID-19
Written by Libby Graham
Corporate Comms | Strategy
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Suzanne Miller, Senior Vice President of Client Relationships at AvreaFoster, routinely checks in with clients and prospects, but the calls she’s making today are different. Miller isn’t inquiring about the status of branding or marketing projects, nor is she asking about key challenges the businesses are facing. She already knows.

A virus has forced every business across the globe to halt and pivot its operations, and ultimately its communications. Miller wants to know what communications professionals are doing — and how they’re doing — with the hope that sharing their experiences might help you, our readers who are most likely struggling with the same issues. In this two-part series, we’ll share insights from communications leaders, the strategies they’ve implemented, lessons learned, and their plans for returning to the office.

Part 1: Communications Strategies Get a Shake-Up

There may have been confusion all around at the onset of the virus, but that’s not a luxury afforded to corporate communications. From day one, these professionals were tasked with articulating a plan to stakeholders, namely employees. The following recounts a few key strategies they used in the beginning and throughout the unexpectedly lengthy impact on business.

Kimberly-Clark’s Communications Strategy Goes Global

Chris Wyse, VP of Corporate Communications for Kimberly-Clark, stifles a faint laugh through the phone when Miller makes a comment about sales of toilet paper over the past few months. The virus, of course, was no laughing matter to the multinational personal care corporation that operates 90 manufacturing facilities worldwide — some of which are in China. “A global crisis team had been set up early on due to our mills in China,” said Wyse, “but as it became clear that things were accelerating, we needed a more robust plan.” Kimberly-Clark established what Wyse referred to as “very clean and clear communications.”

  • An ongoing video series featuring the CEO was created to communicate an outline of protocols for employees to follow. This series, to which Wyse has played writer, cameraman and sound engineer, has evolved to communicate a breadth of messages, from training and procedures to stay safe and healthy to celebrating essential workers — those continuing to work at the mills.
  • Recurring quarterly meetings with team leaders are held at nearly twice the frequency they were pre-COVID-19. The company also went further down in the organization, including “anyone who manages even one person,” Wyse said.
  • Twice weekly all-employee meetings feature COVID-19 updates.
  • The company’s principal portal has been leveraged as a COVID-19 employee resource, populated with an ongoing stream of information, FAQs, answers to policy questions or instructions on how to get connected to work remotely.

Thought Leadership Takes Center Stage at Acosta

Vilma Consuegra, SVP of Business Development & Corporate Marketing at Acosta, implemented similar strategies at the onset of the virus. “It was a great time to reach out to clients,” Consuegra said. “We took the opportunity to publish relevant thought leadership.” Acosta, the full-service sales and marketing agency, partners with consumer packaged goods (CPG) brands and major grocery retailers to drive performance across North America. Acosta became a catalyst for industry conversations almost overnight.

  • Acosta created a 10-part weekly webinar retailer series in which a major grocery chain, such as Albertsons or Wakefern, would join a call and share what they were seeing in their stores, their shortage predictions and coordination efforts with Acosta’s clients on inventory strategies. The series proved invaluable, attracting roughly 600 to 800 participants every week.
  • Driving Acosta’s thought leadership were insights gleaned from weekly surveys. “Shopper habits were changing week to week,” Consuegra said. “We leveraged our shopper community to get a pulse on what they were doing, thinking, and then we shared that information back out to our clients.”

Toyota Motor North America Leverages a Mobile App

Kelly McNeff, VP of Corporate Communications at Toyota Motor North America, had unique challenges to overcome from the very beginning: getting the organization’s manufacturing workforce, which covers 14 facilities, on one communications channel. “It’s been relatively easy to communicate with our corporate employees working remotely,” McNeff said. “They have laptops and are used to frequent communications. Our manufacturing workforce, however, sees that as an imposition. It’s been a much more difficult exercise to reach them.” To overcome that, the auto manufacturer uses a mobile app.

  • Toyota created a very intentional campaign to reach its manufacturing team members through the app, sending videos from the plant president weekly and the head of manufacturing almost every other week.
  • Also through the app, Toyota sends daily updates about what they’re doing to keep plants sanitized, pictures of the things they have put in place to protect workers, instructions on how to stay fit and healthy. “We refer to our manufacturing workforce as industrial athletes,” McNeff said. “They move their bodies to work and we have to keep them in shape.” The company’s efforts proved invaluable, as Toyota increased use of the app by its manufacturing workforce from 30% to nearly 100%.
  • In addition, Toyota produced a video series of 30 executives, pushing out several a week in an effort to ensure a steady stream of information.
  • Perhaps one of the most phenomenal internal communications efforts by Toyota was driven by the manufacturer’s culture it refers to as mendomi care. In Japanese, mendomi means to take care of employees as if they are family. That’s just what team leaders did every single week when they reached out to 40,000 employees with a phone call. And McNeff says that has made all the difference.

Tyler Technologies Gets Busy and Keeps It Personal

A leading developer of software for the public sector, Tyler Technologies went from asking its 5,300 employees to test their remote connection from home to asking them to stay home nearly overnight. They formed a COVID-19 Executive Task Force made up of the C-suite and operation group presidents, which included Samantha Crosby, Chief Marketing Officer. “We were meeting every single morning for the first three weeks,” Crosby said. “Then we moved to three days a week, then to twice a week, and today we’re still meeting weekly.” Over the past two and a half months, Crosby estimates the company has created more than 140 pieces of unique communications.

  • An entire microsite was created for employees to access critical information, from new protocols and tips to stay healthy to benefits information about medical and mental health services.
  • Simultaneously, the company added a COVID-19 response page to its website designed to support its municipal clients. The software developer even went so far as to escalate the completion and launch of a virtual courts application to help their courts & justice clients keep their operations running during the lockdown.
  • The company also leveraged CEO Lynn Moore as a guiding voice, producing videos of the leader talking about the company’s plans to protect employees, communicate with clients and create a connected community while working remotely. The positive response from employees was overwhelming.
  • The company weaved its authentic voice into its posts on social media, too, which have been some of Tyler’s most successful.

Finding Common Ground

While communications strategies can be broad and vary based on a company’s workforce and culture, it’s interesting to note the similarities between these seemingly different companies. All of them leveraged senior leadership, worked to convey an authentic and personal tone, and used video as a primary medium, which is in line with a more human approach. In Part 2 of this series, we’ll reveal more similarities as we talk to additional companies about what they’ve learned and what they’re doing to get employees back in the office.

Building a Caring Culture


Explore the mindset of employees in a post-COVID-19 world, applying a corporate communications lens to navigate ways to build a more caring culture.

© 2021 AvreaFoster Inc.

Libby Graham
Creative Strategist
A versatile writer, brand architect and idea generator, Libby balances the science and art of storytelling in order to craft captivating content that gets in front of clients’ most valued audiences. She brings more than 20 years of experience in marketing communications working across a number of industries, including healthcare, technology, finance and real estate.
© 2020 AvreaFoster Inc.

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