PR’s Top Pros Talk COVID – Tamara Norman
Tamara Norman, Partner & Managing Director, Ketchum, discusses how to effectively communicate with your stakeholders as your business rebounds
Employees are your number one stakeholder. Companies need to be empathetic and responsive to their employee needs now more than ever. During these times communicators really need to understand what their audiences care about and what’s important to them. This way communicators can adapt their strategy to reach the audiences effectively. Tamara’s suggestions include leveraging media and TV to go the stakeholders directly, be transparent and show what your response is to the new norm.
She also stresses the importance of maintaining diversity and educating the workforce on inclusion, even as we move into a virtual office environment.
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About the Host:
DOUG SIMON: Tamara, thanks so much for being with us. What’s the most important piece of advice you have for communicators during this COVID-19 crisis?
TAMARA NORMAN: Well, clearly, COVID-19 has had a seismic shift on all facets of the way we work and the way we live. It also created major shifts in what consumers and employees value and how they behave. So, I think, as communicator, one of the most important things we can do is to really understand the mindset of those audiences. What’s important to them? How are they thinking about the recovery? What do they care most about? Because understanding those shifts will be critical to creating a communication strategy to effectively reach them.
DOUG SIMON: And clearly that would inform the type of advice and counsel you’re providing to them at Ketchum. Can you share a little bit of that?
TAMARA NORMAN: As we think about the life cycle of the crisis, it’s really starting to think about the rebound phase. And for many organizations it means return to work. So, at Ketchum we are spending a lot of time with our clients on employee communications. Companies need to realize that right now the number one stakeholder is their employee base. And just like consumer behavior, expectations of the employee have also changed. So ways of working have transformed, we won’t likely return to a pre-pandemic norm and companies have to be responsive to those employee’s needs. Employers have also set a new precedent and I think it’s a good one in the frequency and the tone of communications during the crisis and now is a moment in time to reset employee communications and continue that cadence.
DOUG SIMON: Yeah and an interesting thing we’re seeing is there is an increase of employee communications through the media and TV in those local markets where they have lots of employees. That’s very important. It’s a way to communicate actually internally not just externally are you seeing that yourself?
TAMARA NORMAN: Yes absolutely. Media has always been an important channel and a conduit to reaching our audiences. And you’ve seen COVID really dominate the news cycle since late February. But, in this crisis we’ve also seen a lot of companies going straight to their stakeholders directly. So, you saw a lot of that early in the crisis with brands emailing consumers directly using their social channels to think about you know new ways to use their products or services videos where executives are going straight to employees. So, I think it’s really important that the communications cadence is there, and their companies are not only talking about what they’re doing but they’re also showing.
DOUG SIMON: Which are also interesting about your career and role as managing director is you’ve experienced across so many different verticals that are being hit differently technology automotive, financial, and professional services. Can you share maybe some advice for people who are working in different industries that are having different impacts and even different impacts among their customer base?
TAMARA NORMAN: Right, absolutely. Each of those industries has been impacted in different ways. Some of those are essential businesses and they’ve had to stay open and they’ve had to take advantage of some of the opportunities that are presented in this crisis. Others have had to close, and others have had to shift the way they work. I think that even though the industries are different and they each have different perceptions and challenges. What’s important is that the communications best practices are applicable to all those industries and some of those are leading from the front and executives being front and center with employees and customers. Transparency has never been more important. I think communicating now in a human and empathetic tone is really important and really also just being responsive to your audience needs and understanding what those are.
DOUG SIMON: And there’s also challenges to diversity across many levels of diversity, both the different impacts of different audiences, you know, for organizations that maybe have to furlough, downsize, hopefully, temporarily, you know, keeping a diverse staff. How do you go about approaching that and where some of your advice in that area?
TAMARA NORMAN: Yeah. At Ketchum, we have a deep commitment to diversity and inclusion. And I think that focus is even more important in the current environment. So, from recruiting to educational programs, to affinity groups, we have a very active community across North America, and so much of that activity was taking place physically in our offices. And so, like many other programs we’ve had to take our diversity initiatives and bring them into the virtual world. So, our diversity and inclusion council is still meeting but they’re doing it virtually. We have educational programs that are being launched on our on our intranet and now we’re gearing up for June and of course pride month. So, it really is keeping that commitment, maintaining that activity just doing it in a virtual world like so many other things we’re doing these days.
DOUG SIMON: And the stress of this crisis situation has really sort of turned on the juices of creativity within our industry. Do you have any final thoughts on that as we wrap it up?
TAMARA NORMAN: Yeah, you know, I think I mentioned we’re entering this rebound phase and I think while the crisis hit really quickly and jolted us into a new reality. The rebound will be slow and gradual and probably not linear so we’re not going to return to the old normal. It’ll be a new normal. So, understanding that landscape is critical and thinking creatively about how to respond to that is going to be really important. So, we’re spending a great deal of time at Ketchum ensuring that our clients are thinking creatively but thinking strategically with the audience in mind.
DOUG SIMON: Thanks so much for your time. That was terrific.
TAMARA NORMAN: Thank you.