“Radio is a powerful medium for crisis communication during COVID-19”

[ 0 ] May 4, 2020

“Radio is a powerful medium for crisis communication during COVID-19”

Interview with
Zohare Ali Shariff, CEO APR:

As the world
experiences one of the most debilitating and unprecedented health and economic
crises of recent times, corporations have a tough task on their hands-how to
continue to reach out to their customers and target audiences while keeping
business afloat. BR Research sat down with Zohare Ali Shariff on a virtual Zoom
call to discuss what communication challenges Pakistani businesses are facing
today, how they are handling it and what strategies would work best to keep
customer loyalty intact as the country collectively fights the COVID-19 plight.
Zohare is a PR and communications professional who heads Asiatic Public
Relations (APR) Network. Here are edited transcripts.

BR Research: Arguably, the government- at the Federal and the Provincial level-
has one of the biggest communication obligations at the moment, not only to
share progress updates with the people but to keep mass hysteria at bay. What
messages do the government need to put out and what specific communication
strategy measures would you suggest?

Zohare Ali Shariff: A communication strategy generally, and especially in a
crisis, needs to do three things – inform, inspire, involve. In the present
COVID-19 crisis, informing the people would entail sharing accurate and updated
facts with the publics regularly, even daily, like the British and some other
governments are doing through a daily media briefing, telecast live—headed by a
key minister and more importantly, an epidemiologist and head of National
Health Service as members. The daily update has to be honest, factual and
without bombast or populist rhetoric. The second objective is to inspire. This
should serve to motivate the public to be united as a nation, not as individual
provinces, to fight this pandemic. And the third objective is to involve. The
government should work to instill a deep sense of responsibility across
society, so that every single individual feels it a sacred duty to strictly
adhere to safety measures given and follow the rules, even as these are
modified from time to time in line with the evolving ground realities.

In general, the government has to think about whom its audience is, what the
messages are and what medium should be used to widely reach these audiences. We
know the target audience is very wide; but we also know a huge share of
this—particularly those amongst the rural populations do not have access to
television or newspapers. To my knowledge, radio is one of the most powerful
mediums in reaching the wider audiences across urban as well as rural Pakistan.
The government needs to utilize this medium. The second important factor to
consider is language. A lot of Pakistani audiences do not speak or understand
Urdu. Is the government communicating in different local languages? Taking
these points in stock would really fine-tune government’s communication
strategy.

BRR: Demand for non-essential goods and services have slumped around the world
as well as in Pakistan. Companies are watching revenues plunge, many have had
to lay off employees; others have raised prices to protect margins and so on.
What is the best strategy moving forward for corporations?

ZAS: There cannot be one strategy or line of action for all in the corporate
sector. Too many variables are at work—the nature of business of the company,
its size, the number of its employees, financial strength and so forth.
However, every business must consider laying off people only as the very last
resort, and instead try to achieve savings in other operational costs. Some
sectors like tourism, aviation and hospitality have seen their business and
revenues plummet to absolute zero, and in such cases layoffs, or at least pay
cuts may be inevitable. However, it is sad to see that some other businesses
which have flourished for decades, who have presumably paid off the initial
investment long time ago, and who have huge financial reserves or depth, have
also resorted to lay-offs in the very first month of the crisis. Companies who
are not laying off people and who are even ready to bear losses now, will find
that once things are back to some state of normalcy, their employees will
exhibit fierce loyalty and give much higher productivity to help their company
make up for the losses.

BRR: How can corporations use these times to develop their brand or would
brands in Pakistan rather not spend on brand building at the moment?

ZAS: This is obviously not the time for traditional brand building as consumers
have cut back spending to only the essentials, besides being deeply stressed
out. Companies should use these times to plan for the future and really delve
into research and analysis of what consumers will need post COVID-19, and
prepare for it. It is obvious that whenever the pandemic ends, the world will
not be the same. There might be some initial euphoric consumer spending on all
the things people have missed out on in the long months of the lockdown, but I
think consumer habits and priorities will have changed post COVID-19 and things
getting back to ‘normal’ will not be easy. To quote from the classic novel, The
Plague by Nobel Laureate Albert Camus, ‘Destruction is an easier, speedier
process than reconstruction.’ So the brands which can accurately predict what
these new consumer wants will be, and have used these times to be prepared with
new offerings to meet these wants will be the winners.

One thing to note here is that the world has started to change. The classical
school of thought that businesses should only care about maximizing their
profits and serving their shareholders has evolved. Customers do care about how
companies act at different times. Corporations recognize now—especially in
developed nations—that they have to create some kind of shared value in the
society. They have to look after their employees, the community and the
environment. This feeds directly into their brand policy and how they can
accumulate brand equity.

BRR: Do you see growing social distancing, especially if it’s prolonged to 8-12
months, will give strength to e-commerce? If so, then how would branding and
marketing change in an increasing e-commerce world?

ZAS: Yes, definitely. E-commerce became a way of life in most developed
countries several years ago already. Pakistan has been far behind in this for
several reasons, including difficulty in making online payments (remember that
only about 10 percent of the population has bank accounts), a culture of buying
things like daily groceries on credit from the corner store, high level of
illiteracy and so on. Things began changing when easy to use online payment
systems like uPaisa were introduced. Also online marketing platforms like OLX
gave a huge boost to e-commerce. Today, because of home isolation many more
people who had never before tried out e-commerce, because of an apprehension of
technology or whatever other reason, are getting into e-commerce. So as
e-commerce becomes a habit in Pakistan too, brand marketing will almost
certainly adapt to this new sales avenue by reaching online shoppers in more
innovative ways.

BRR: How responsive do you think Pakistani corporations have been in relation
to their communication with their customers so far in this crisis?

ZAS: Frankly I have not done any in-depth or specific study of this. My general
impression is that there is always room to do more and do better. The key for
companies and brands at this time is to avoid communications which even vaguely
comes across as self-serving, and focus on communications which serves to
reassure customers and consumers. People need reassurance more than anything
else at this time.

BRR: In the age of misinformation how do you suggest corporations strategize
themselves?

ZAS: Today there is both misinformation and an overload of information. So the
challenge has two facets – how to counter negative propaganda and how to
maintain recall and stand out from the crowd. One classic rule of PR and
communications is that if you don’t talk about yourself, others will! So it is
important that companies maintain continuity of communications with their
defined target audiences. And beyond this they need to ensure their
communication is credible and rooted in the needs and wants of the recipients.

Unfortunately, some companies treat all communication with an advertising
mindset, talking about how great they are or their products are. The public
does not want this rhetoric; at least not all the time! Also when strategizing
communications, it is vital to disseminate your messaging through multiple
channels, the mix depending on who you wish to reach out to.

Newspaper: Business
Recorder

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Category: News | خبریں

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