10 top tips for communicating in tough times

by Vincent Franklin on

This blog is about how pension schemes can handle a crisis – but the principles hold true for any business trying to calm a fraught or uncertain situation.

  1. The value of information is in who says it, not what they say. Source trumps quality. So build your relationship with your members – before you have any tough messages to deliver. Who are the trustees? Members don’t know you’re separate from their employer. And look for ways to represent the members better – more diversity, better nominations.
  1. Your message is only as good as your data. Before there’s any stress on the system, get your data cleaner. Digitise all your records and update your contacts. Collect members’ email addresses and mobile numbers now, before you need them.
  1. People panic – so give them the big picture first. Stand back from the details. People might need to understand the ins and outs eventually, but not yet. First, reassure them that they’re not going to lose their pensions. When it comes to pensions, the news latches onto any change as a catastrophe. So get that big picture clear.
  1. People need the whole story, then their own story. Tell people the whole story in brief, so everyone can see where they fit in. Then segment the membership to give people the most relevant, personal information you can give them.
  1. The language changes the message. Think about the language you use and the effect it has – vote or choose? In crisis or under stress? And use members’ language not pension language.
  1. Changing the language confuses the message. Create a core story – a guide to how to talk about what’s happening. Get everybody using the same language, telling the same story – scheme admin, PR, trustees, sponsor. It’s not about spin, it’s about not confusing the members.
  1. A vacuum is worse than bad news. Communicate regularly. Don’t leave people waiting for you to call, it makes them nervous. Say when you’ll get in touch again and keep that promise – even if there’s no news. Tell people where you’re going, not where you’ve got to.
  1. People don’t read. You can’t rely on letters. Get information out there in different ways and repeat it many times. The more channels you use, the more chance your message has to reach more people. Live events, websites, letters, local press, radio, helplines and…
  1. People talk to each other – on social media. Use social media as a source and as an outlet: when you find out what people are talking about you can respond to it – not necessarily on social media, but somewhere. When you want to tell members something, they will help spread the word themselves. So support the people driving the online conversations.
  1. Authorised doesn’t mean authorised. Members looking for an IFA need more support than just pointing them to a website. Some advisers can’t advise on transfers out of a DB scheme, for example, despite being ‘authorised’.

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