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Five lessons to guide insurance communicators facing Covid-19

Sam Whiteley is Communications Director at Free Partners. With 25 years’ experience in international and London insurance markets, Sam has an uncanny knack for finding engaging angles to promote her clients’ profiles through social and industry media. Previously she was a senior member of Swiss Re’s media relations team, having started her communications career in the press office at Lloyd’s. Sam’s in-depth knowledge of the industry equips her to guide clients on communications strategy across the full range of market issues.

Covid-19, unlike previous crises such as 9/11, did not come out of a clear blue sky. Rather it’s one we’ve known about and the insurance industry has been able to analyse and model for a century or more.

However, when reality bites it’s surprising how hard it is to be confident in our response.

Over the past 2 decades the threat from international terrorism or financial catastrophe has dominated our crisis communication thinking. Both scenarios represent acute crises that will pass after a few days or weeks. Today the insurance industry’s communicators and marketers are facing the challenge of communicating in a way that needs to engage and inspire our colleagues, clients, policyholders and investors, for months or even longer.

Looking back at previous crises there are a number of key lessons that remain relevant as insurance communicators face Covid-19:

Only communicate what you can be certain of – when you are certain of it.

A crisis creates a complex and fast-moving situation, so it’s vital that you only answer questions from the media or the internal audience where you have 100% certainty of the answer. Speculation or equivocation could lead to inaccurate reporting.

The second learning leads directly from the first:

If you don’t know the answer admit it, be confident in that response and explain you will give the correct answer as soon as you have it.

To illustrate the importance of lessons 1 and 2 you only need to see Congresswoman Katie Porter asking senior US medical advisors about the cost of Covid-19 tests and treatments to understand that not knowing the answer – but pretending you do or giving half a response – can result in you talking yourself into a public relations nightmare.

Seek the support of your senior leadership

Senior management need advice on the areas they don’t have immediate sight of. Including what the media are saying and are interested in and they need to get a good understanding of how the internal team are feeling. Ensure that you are able to provide them with that insight when they need it.

Collaborate

Internally

As well as senior buy-in you need to work across international teams, individual business divisions and downwards through the organisation. If you want to gain access to timely information and get a genuine understanding of the mood you will need to build your own understanding of the business at all levels.

Across the industry

Where possible and in line with legal constraints speak to your market peers and competitors. We are lucky in London to have access to really effective market associations, and they can be a good touch point for communicating in this way.

The most important thing of all:

Learn the lessons

Every crisis will ultimately teach us something about the way we communicate about our business. After 9/11 our industry understood that effective terrorism cover needed to be put in place across the globe. Immediate solutions and quick fixes were started but overtime this has evolved into a competitive and innovative market for terrorism insurance. As communicators we have had to learn to describe the terrorism landscape and to place insurance firmly into it. 19 years ago when faced with the question about the cover available there was little of value we could add to the media.

Similarly, the experience of Covid-19 may lead to insurance product innovations which will need clear and effective communication strategies to explain them.

Many of these learnings hold true for the situation we face today but what is different now is the need to sustain a communications narrative over a long period whilst retaining the flexibility to adapt the marketing and communications strategy and act as tactically as necessary.

Over the coming weeks, we will be holding a number of closed working groups with senior marketers to help share ideas and insights about how we should respond to the demands that Covid-19 puts on the insurance industry’s communicators.

If you would be interested in finding out more or have any questions on challenges you’re facing in light of the crisis, please get in touch.

Reassure the market. Motivate your employees. Communicate effectively during Covid-19. Contact us to find out more.

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