2021 – Converting a crisis into communications opportunity, with empathy

It has been over nine months since the Covid crisis hit us. The economy is at an all-time low, trying desperately to recover, and every community is still reeling under tremendous pressure as now it is “survival of the fittest”. 

So even as we start 2021, this remains the time of crisis. 

In my latest book “How to Communicate Strategically in Corporate World”, I have written on how communication has evolved during Covid as has become the single-most potent tool of leaders to reach out, albeit remotely, to stakeholders – clients, shareholders, promoters and employees. 

Historically, the crisis we communication leaders are all familiar with is when the organisation and its immediate stakeholders are the ones impacted as it is in some way responsible for the same. Most companies have a manual for the same. But the crisis all leaders have been struggling with for the past nine months is where the business or overall economy is impacted — the Covid times. However, it is high time that leaders need to change their perspective and with the onset of 2021, look at the latter as a communications opportunity. 

Let me elaborate how. 

There is no denying these have been hard times. Economic growth has been pushed back by years, communities across sectors are making losses, some are even shutting down, people are losing jobs and livelihoods. Wherever you look there is negative news. The media is flooded with the news that depicts the so-called “reality” of job losses and shut downs.

For leaders, it now needs a little recalibration of their minds. For example, if an organisation is not cutting down on the workforce, it makes a good story. Just give it a thought, even if a company is not cutting salaries, it makes a sunshine story. And just imagine, if an organisation is managing to grow, even marginally, during these times, or give bonus to its employees, it will make a great sunshine story. In good times these stories are in abundance and so lost in the crowd. Every media in good times look for the dark story as “it makes news”.  

A leader must understand that in 2020 everyone has become fatigued with all the negativity all around and so in 2021 they want to hear something good in the air. A fresh start at 2021 is all that readers ask for, thus media will be happy to provide.    

The only caution that a leader has to maintain is — there needs to be a lot of sensitivity and empathy in the way the news is communicated. It is critical to be aware of the ecosystem and placing a positive story sensitively in a negative environment is an art that leaders have to master.  

So a leader needs to place news as a sunshine story and not as a story that has a “boastful” tenor. With the latter, the story is bound to backfire. This subtle art will make more and more people interested in your organisation. 

Sensitivity and empathy play a key role in communicating during a crisis. The communication can be to internal stakeholders or to external clients, stakeholders such as shareholders and media. If there is a sunshine story it needs to be shared across all segments so that the sun keeps shining on the organisation with the support of all the stakeholders. These two vital elements during a leader’s communication will make sure that there is no alienation of the organisation because of insensitivity or demonstration of lack of empathy.   

A leader needs to be sensitive and empathetic to the overall ecosystem demonstratively in actions and communications. So every communication needs to showcase these two elements prominently and then to subtly include the achievement as a sunshine story generating hope for the overall business. These are the stories that make history and a leader needs to learn the fine art of communication whether one is communicating a positive story or handling a crisis. With empathy and sensitivity even the internal stakeholders understand why extreme measures sometimes need to be taken to keep the organisation afloat.  

In these tough times every bit of positive story that usually gets lost in the crowd gets prominence. And for the negative stories, it becomes a victim of the headwinds for which it is not directly responsible. 

So leaders in 2021 need to make the best use of such crisis using the right mix of empathy and sensitivity, converting it into an opportunity. 


The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Mahul Brahma
Prof (Dr.) Mahul Brahma is Dean and Professor of NSHM Media School and NSHM Design School. He is a Visiting Research Fellow at Bath Business School, Bath Spa University, UK. He is former Professor, Dean of School of Media and Communications and Director of Communications at an Indian university.

Prof Brahma was Chief Editor and Head of CSR, Corporate Communications and Branding, Publishing and Conferences for a Tata Steel and SAIL JV, mjunction. He is a D.Litt in luxury and communications, and a PhD in Economics. He is a TEDx speaker on the mythic value of luxury.

He won Sahityakosh Samman in 2022 and 2023, Crisis Communications Leader of the Year Award in 2021 and several other national-level awards in communications and CSR. He is a luxury commentator and award-winning author of 10 books – 'Bharat, A Luxe Story', The Quiet Luxe, Aesthetic Leadership in Luxury, Mostly Missing: Be Silly Be Slow, The Mythic Value of Luxury, How to Communicate Strategically in Corporate World, the Luxe Trilogy (Decoding Luxe, Dark Luxe and Luxe Inferno) and Quarantined: Love in the time of Corona.

He is an alumnus of Indian Institute of Management - Calcutta, St Xavier’s College, MICA, Sri Satya Sai University, and University of Cambridge Judge Business School. He is a golfer with a 7 handicap.

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