Corporate Communications taking centre stage in Financial Services’ response to India’s COVID-19 crisis.

Extensive media coverage of the devastating impact of the COVID-19 second wave in India has alerted the entire world to a critical need, and Communications leaders are playing a critical role in determining how large corporations should respond. With each email, press release, text message and intranet update, a weighing up of interests is required. What should we say, do, and how will our message land and be seen?

Andrews Partnership gathered a group of Communications leaders – both external and internal – from the Financial Services sector for a peer discussion this month, aimed at identifying the guiding principals comms professionals are using to respond to the crisis. Drawing on an experienced panel, we have brought together best practice elements from crisis communications toolkits, together with practical examples of communicating the Indian COVID-19 response.


Responding to the crisis:


  • Build a team: one of the first things Communications leaders are doing is putting together an Incident Response team, which for most Banks are normally reserved for technical outages or cyber incidents etc. These may not manage all communications, but can create principals and can act as a resource for business leaders and India communications team.
  • Keep it practical: best practice responses have eschewed empty ‘messages of support’. Instead focused on practical help, and here are some of those responses specific to the Indian crisis:
    • Special payments to all staff in India
    • Salary advances for additional medical expenses
    • Vaccination support programs
    • Creating platforms to allow staff to match blood donations for family members
    • Hotlines to allow staff seeking practical help such as hospital beds to connect with senior executives who can support them
    • Flexibility to allow staff to return to home towns and work remotely
    • Additional financial support for family member medical costs
    • Access to medical support and EAP programs
  • Donations are not as easy as they look: the immediate response of most organisations has been to make a donation to an Indian charity. What leading companies have found, however, is that the financial and practical due diligence can be challenging, with not all charities having the scale and capability to actually make best use of the donations. The key element to keep in mind is that any donation should be aligned to the business’ purpose, and be complementary to other CSR activities.
  • Engage all stakeholders: amid the rush to engage staff, it’s important to remember your other stakeholders – customers, regulators, governments, investors and the media. Some organisations have been in the midst of dealing with internal comms challenges, only to realise they’re facing negative publicity in the press.


Appropriate messaging:


  • Do we talk about what we’re doing? Huge debate on this topic, with a real divide of ‘yes’ and ‘no’. There was a consensus of ‘yes’ to individuals within the corporate to using their own platforms i.e.; LinkedIn, Twitter to communicate what the business was doing, as an empowering and authentic comms tool. While it can look self-serving to talk about donations of cash or practical assistance such as oxygen concentrators and medical supplies, many companies have found that staff and customers want to know what they’re doing, and the risk is they can react negatively if they feel the business is not doing enough to respond.


  • Show empathy: structure communications to show understanding and caring for colleagues, customers and the broader community; the message is far more likely to land well. Communications leaders have a duty to remember that the response is not to get good publicity, and should challenge anyone who thinks otherwise.


  • Global connectivity: Communications leaders are encouraging global managers with teams in India to reduce email traffic and connect with team members on calls. Best practice organisations have prepared scripts and talking points for managers to help ensure the message is consistent across the business, and to give those managers tools to deal with the crisis. In some organizations, staff in India have a direct line to HQ to debrief weekly events which provides psychological safety.


  • Communicate sparingly: in many organisations, teams in India have been overwhelmed by messages of support from staff outside of India, wanting to know ‘what was going on’ and how they could help. To manage the influx, Communications leaders have limited communication to a single channel, ensuring messages are kept practical.


Good communication leaders are aware that the real crisis continues long after the headlines have subsided. COVID-19 continues to spread, now in smaller towns and rural India as much as in Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru. Sadly, virtually no employees or customers have been untouched by the crisis. Looking to the future, large businesses will play an important role in the long-term response, including additional support for employees affected by death or serious illness in their families, the provision of employee and family vaccination programs, and in responding to customers’ needs. Getting communication right is critical; doing right is even more important.

Andrews Partnership are the reputation experts, with offices in Hong Kong and Singapore working across Asia, as the leading specialist corporate affairs, communications and investor relations executive search firm. We excel at understanding each organisation's unique challenges and appointing the right talent, who make meaningful business impact.