DURING economic downturns, you may have to be a bringer of bad news such as pay cuts or employee layoffs to your organisation’s stakeholders.

How should you communicate to ensure that you not only protect but also possibly enhance your organisation’s image?

To succeed under tough conditions, you will need to think practically, creatively and proactively.

Here are some tips to help you develop a strong communication plan to help your organisation maintain its reputation and credibility during a downturn:

1. Communicate your company’s vision

It is quite easy to lose the communication thread and the support of your stakeholders when you are being tossed from pillar to post with negative news.

Creating a robust communication plan that is underpinned with a strong vision from the organisation’s leaders can help steady the ship and keep confidence and motivation levels up.

The vision is essentially one that can provide stakeholders with a clear and simple picture of the outcome that the organisation wants to achieve at the end of the difficult time.

A good and clear vision will enable everyone to better understand and put into perspective the decisions, events and actions that need to be taken.

2. Maximise communication meridian points

In every organisation, there are points at which official communication and shared activities between departments and individuals intersect.

If properly tapped, this is where companies can develop powerful communication outcomes while minimising or cutting expenditure.

The main pre-requisite for maximising these meridian points is that people within the organisation must be able to openly share initiatives and challenges.

Through providing the right forums and developing open dialogue, the communication function can help colleagues in an organisation identify common initiatives and platforms for cooperation.

All these are powerful engines to enable healthy communication flows throughout the organisation.

3. Rally your support players

If your organisation is heading towards a negative situation, such as layoffs and poor results, it is always useful to know which people — inside and outside the company — are going to be willing and able to help, and how exactly they are going to do this.

By stakeholder mapping, you will have a better idea who will be more influential and more supportive to your cause.

Then, ensure you bring them into the fold early and keep them in the loop.

Internally, they may be employees who are trusted and respected by their peers.

Externally, they may be the trade union or key financial analysts. These supports will lend weight and credibility to any messages the company may make.

If you neglect these supports, they may turn out to be your strongest critics.

4. Keep your communication tools sharpened

When going into battle, it is always advisable to ensure that you not only have an adequate stock of ammunition but are also confident in handling your weaponry effectively.

Likewise, if you know you will be going into a communication battlefield, do ensure that you and your colleagues are prepared:

n Provide media training for your management, even if it is just an internal refresher course for a couple of hours;

n Get your crisis communication plans and holding statements up to date and relevant; and

n Develop and strengthen your professional network to ensure you know where to get help if it is needed.

5. Utilise the right tools

Certain communication tools are going to work better in different situations.

Sending an e-mail message to inform employees that they have been laid off may be expeditious and initially the least confrontational, but the potential repercussions to your reputation and employee morale could be devastating.

During difficult times, your method of communication is critically important. So do understand the impact of your communication tools and make the smart choice to attain the best outcome.

6. Communicate with honesty and integrity

The most glitzy communication effort will be useless if it is not properly grounded in substance.

A simple act of communication done with honesty and integrity can do wonders for anchoring a company’s reputation and earning goodwill.

During economic downturns, tough and unpopular decisions will have to be made.

For example, laying off employees may be something that is inevitable.

But if you manage your communication efforts with honesty and integrity, it is highly possible that when the dust settles and business picks up, former employees and clients will say: “I would work with that organisation again.”