Communicating During Coronavirus

By Jeff Lenard   read

Convenience retailers can amply their communications to focus what they’re doing for the community during times of crisis.

March 20, 2020

Communicating-(1).jpgWhen large-scale events create uncertainty, like with the coronavirus (COVID-19), communications strategies shift. Telling stories about new products or fun new activities will likely appear tone deaf to customers and community leaders.

In times of disruption, look at how you communicate: Focus less on what you are saying about your business and the products/services and more about how your business is helping people. And while a light touch can often cut through the clutter, especially on social media, exercise caution—especially now. There is a world of difference between adding some levity or joking about a situation that may be serious to others.

Here are some quick tips to help you navigate the current COVID-19 crisis. And for media relations and/or crisis communications assistance, contact Jeff Lenard, NACS vice president of strategic industry initiatives, at jlenard@convenience.org.

Practical Advice on How To Communicate

In a time of uncertainty, it’s important to look at communications through that lens that others feel. You can help by sharing information that reassures others and communicates important information not just about your business but about the community.

Here are four key roles that business communications can take during uncertainty:  

  1. Communicate business is not as normal: Yes, we know things are not normal now but it’s also important to acknowledge that to both customers and employees. It sets the context for all your messaging. What are you doing to ensure the safety of your customers and employees? Can you talk about how often you are cleaning and sanitizing or minimizing risks to your team and customers? Are there new programs, products or services that support this? For example, we’ve heard from retailers who are trying out delivery, focusing more on the drive-thru window (or even using the money drop window as a walk-up window) or offering self-serve fueling or contactless payments to develop customer-friendly solutions to concerns. These tactics all support the message that you are thinking of new ways to address changing times and customer needs. 
  2. Amplify existing health-care messages: Share the messages that are being communicated by respected and knowledgeable health groups. This is about making sure that we are all on the same page. And the convenience industry can play an enormously positive role in sharing basic hygiene tips, etc., since we are in every community in the country. NACS has information from respected health groups on its Coronavirus Resources page that you can share. 
  3. Helping others: We can only handle so much intense news in any given day. At some point it helps to find reprieve and joy. Are there things that you can share that allow people to smile or take their minds off of heavier topics? Remember that for some customers, your store may be the only interaction they have with people all day regardless of the current situation. Our industry doesn’t just provide essential products and services, they play an important role in brightening people’s days (or nights) when they may really need it. And remember that every person has a story, something that is well-captured in this Chick fil-A video about how everyone has different context in life. 
  4. Support the cause: Convenience stores collect or contribute more than $1 billion to charitable causes a year. And the industry’s supplier partners also give back in the communities that they serve. Are there ways to share how you are working with community groups and vulnerable people in your community as part of your operations during this crisis? 

If you are working with relief groups, whether the American Red Cross and other groups that support first responders, hunger-focused  groups like Feeding America (millions of lower-income school children don’t had the same access to reduced-price breakfasts and lunches with schools cancelled) or local community or faith-based groups, tell that story. It’s not about bragging about what you do: It’s letting people know help is available and that you care, something that is critical to hear in uncertain times. And, consider other programs to reward those local heroes that are first responders or health-care workers, whether it’s complimentary or reduced-price offers. And don’t forget to recognize our everyday heroes in our stores who support our community heroes.

Communication Channels

There are plenty of ways that you can tell stories about how you are helping customers, including social media channels. Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are best for interacting with consumers. LinkedIn is perfect for sharing your ideas on how others can help their customers and communities. After all, NACS was founded nearly 60 years ago by retailers who wanted to share ideas with each other to make the industry successful.

And, of course, your employees are another vital communications channel. You should be telling them at least as much as you are telling external channels. There are also opportunities to have them amplify key messages and services to their own social media channels and social circles.

Finally, NACS will be amplifying your stories across our NACS and NACS Foundation social channels. We want to highlight the good works that you and your teams are providing within your communities. Please use #conveniencecares when you post your stories to social media, and send your stories to news@convenience.org so we can share your positive messages with the industry—just like our industry has done since 1961.


Jeff Lenard has been the NACS spokesperson for nearly two decades. He is the vice president of strategic industry initiatives and can be reached at jlenard@convenience.org.
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