Communicating change effectively

Written by Victoria O’Neill

In recent months, there has been a wave of media coverage on organisations communicating change.  

From Woolworths backtracking on its support of Australia Day, to the Prime Minister’s re-jig of the Stage 3 tax cuts, both entities faced harsh criticism. 

Managing change is a constant challenge for marketing and communications professionals. Timelines get bumped, budgets are revised, goal posts move, and unforeseen circumstances can occur than affect the trajectory of a campaign or warrant an announcement.  

Whether it’s a change in approach, a new plan, or simply a change of heart, the key is to ensure your communications support it, rather than negatively impact your reputation.  

While there may be no silver bullet, there are ways to manage issues to minimise blowback and avoid becoming the next media headline. 

Here are our five top tips for communicating change.

1. Plan for the good, the bad, the ugly 

You don’t know, what you don’t know. An ideation workshop can open up the realm of possibilities in terms of known and potential issues or changes that may affect your campaign or wider business. Consider all scenarios – the good, the bad, and the ugly. 

A media benchmark can also help take the temperature on your company’s current reputation, your competitors, and what hot topics are featuring in the media that are related to your brand or industry. 

2. Develop an issues/crisis communications plan 

Once you know the potential issues at play, make sure you have a robust issues and crisis plan that takes into account the steps for your team or business to manage or neutralize backlash.  

Determine who will be affected by upcoming changes or issues and map out how it will affect your target audiences and stakeholders.

3. Consider timings 

A key factor when communicating change is when to hit ‘go’. Depending on the sensitivity of the issue, you’ll need to weigh up whether a proactive or reactive approach is best. 

When communicating to consumers and business, it’s important that timings are measured. Announcing too soon can cause alarm. Leave it too long opens you up to potential leaks and having to explain the delay in addition to the change itself.  

At best, withholding information can be interpreted as laziness or lack of regard for stakeholders. At worst, it can be viewed as lying by omission leading to a potentially irreparable break in trust.  

And don’t forget your employees. There is nothing worse than hearing or reading about company changes for the first time in the media. Make sure your timings are aligned as best possible, while respecting all of your stakeholders. 

4. Landing the key messages  

Preparing the messaging for any kind of change is crucial to how an announcement may be received, whether it be by the media, your customers, or your employees. 

Be transparent, but concise about what the change is, who it will affect, when or where it will occur, and how. 

Test messaging where possible to get an understanding of how it may be interpreted by stakeholders as identified in your issues/crisis plan.  

Go back to your strategic narrative to assess whether they are aligned and if further comms are required. If there is a gap, the media will find it. 

While it is often a luxury, dedicating the time to getting the messages right will lay the foundations for communicating efficiently and responding effectively, lest you find yourself on an apology tour!

5. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it 

Once you’ve ironed out your key messages, it’s time to focus on the delivery. This is where media training is a must to prepare your spokesperson/spokespeople for any media curve balls. 

And while a part of your success will be determined by the messages themselves, the rest will ultimately come down to the tone and authenticity in how the words are delivered. 

It’s imperative that you dedicate as much time as possible for your spokesperson to get comfortable with responding to potential questions, particularly if it’s a proactive announcement. It can be all for naught if left to the last minute.  

Is your business going through change? Do you have a robust issues or crisis plan in place? For further information on how IMPACT can support your comms, please email Nicole at: 

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