Best practices

Communicating in a Time of Crisis

Communicating in a Time of Crisis
Once you have made the right decision to keep employees and their families safe, you are probably wondering how to keep in touch with your users, clients, partners or members of your organization. The exceptionally challenging circumstances brought on by COVID-19 has left many businesses and organizations without an effective way to communicate with the people who are important to their lives and their organizations.

Here are some of our tips to help you send the right communication, in the right way, and at the right time to continue essential conversations in the weeks ahead.

These suggestions will also help you establish best practices for the future. Of course, there is much more to learn about each of the topics outlined below. We encourage you to contact the Cakemail team for more information or documentation.

Here are our advices for sending effective email communications during a crisis:

1. The importance of communication in times of crisis: What to communicate and how
2. Identify your audiences: Targeting recipients to increase efficiency and minimize risks.
3. Who communicates: the importance of clearly identifying yourself
4. Keeping in touch: communicate frequently to cultivate relationships and increase your chances of being heard.
5. Optimization: using metrics to improve communications
6. Your last-minute checklist: what to look at before you hit Send

With all our hearts, we are with you. We wish all of you strength, courage and compassion in these uncertain times.

We hope that this series of articles will help guide you. Do not hesitate to contact us for support with your communications. We are here to help!

  • The Cakemail Team

1. The importance of communication in times of crisis: What to communicate and how

When a major event occurs, it is important to adjust your communication to each unique situation by sharing the right content, having the right frequency, and using an appropriate tone. — content, frequency and sometimes it is also important to change your tone.

Here are a few tips:

Be truthful
What is your mission? What are your values? Now, more than ever, is the time to communicate deeply who you are. If you have always defined yourself as a company involved with its community, or as an organization that serves others, this is an even greater opportunity to make your mission shine through. In any case, it is important to remain honest and sincere. A crisis may be an opportunity for your company, but the opportunity must reflect what you believe in.

Suspend all irrelevant campaigns
Review all ongoing or planned communications. Verify that planned generic ad campaigns, special offers, and blog posts are still relevant. In many cases, it is better to suspend generic advertising campaigns, communications and promotions to avoid appearing disconnected from the rest of the world. Continuing to communicate “as if nothing had happened” could be negatively perceived by some of your clients and partners. This could make your organization appear irresponsible, while creating noise and interfering with your essential and relevant conversations.

What your recipients need
Communicate about products and services that provide vital information to your recipients — for example, changes in your business hours or the availability of your services. This is the time to highlight ways to contact your customer service department for support and relevant information. Also make sure to clearly display your online menu and delivery service options. Unfortunately, it is also possible that you have to announce the complete suspension of your activities until further notice. Regardless of your situation, it is a good idea to focus on the most relevant messages to ensure that information about your business or organization is accurate and consistent.

During any crisis, it’s important to stay consistent with the frequency of your messages. This will help your clients set expectations, so they know they’ll receive the right information at the right time. But if there are important changes, communicate them as quickly as possible.

The spokesperson and the tone
Who will be your company’s spokesperson in times of crisis? If you’re a small or family business, it may make sense for your leader to be the voice of your organization. If this is your plan, make sure your announcements are crafted by someone who is specialized in communication.

Keep it real. Crisis communications need to be written in a sincere voice. Your tone should be empathetic and warm. During a major crisis, it’s critical that you communicate compassion and community spirit. Again, stay consistent with your mission and values. What you say must be honest and sincere!

Want to lighten things up by creating content that is fun and entertaining? Be subtle and pay attention to what is appropriate during challenging times. Many people will be more sensitive — a clumsy joke could be hurtful or perceived badly. This is no time to be hurting people.

Be sincere and open
You have built your business over all many years. Your customers, partners, and members know you — they’re familiar with your brand. Like you, they have been shaken by this crisis and are more vulnerable. A crisis can be a key moment to redefine your relationship for the future. Stay accessible to your community, so you can field their questions and comments.

Without living in denial, remain confident about the future. Your confidence and capacity to support your clients and community during this time can inspire them and make a difference.

2) Choose your audience: target recipients to increase efficiency and minimize risks.

Of course, you can use different channels to communicate. Social media can be useful if you already have a close relationship with your audience and you publish regularly. However, these articles are focused on email communications — this is our area of expertise. Using email, a well-optimized message will arrive directly in the recipient’s inbox. This is the most effective way to be seen, and to follow up efficiently!

Email communications are subject to different regulations, depending on where your recipients live. These laws vary, and can be more or less strict depending on the country. Regardless, all email legislation is based on a genuine desire to reduce spam and unsolicited messages. All national or regional email regulations are available for you to read online. In Canada, the CASL guides email practices.

But the basic rule is quite simple: to send emails to people, you need their consent.

Consent is written and dated proof that someone wants to receive communications from you. For example, the email address and timestamp on a newsletter subscription form can serve as consent.

There are other valid types of consent. For example, a consumer can give implied consent when they purchase a good or service from your company. Note however that this consent is time-limited and must be confirmed.

Take the time to look at your email list and remove the addresses of customers and partners with whom you do not have a regular relationship.

What to do:

  • Remove all addresses that have been on your list for more than two years and for which you do not have explicit consent. Unless you are a community or political organization, you are not allowed to send email to these people. In any case, these addresses may cause you more problems than success, as they will no longer be valid and may have even become spam traps.
  • Remove all addresses that have been on your list for less than two years and for which you do not have explicit consent. Draft a confirmation message to this list — for example, a short email that asks each recipient to click on a link in order to receive communications from you. This message can be resent to people who did not open your email the first time.
  • Check that the message you are sending is relevant to your entire list. It can be much more effective to segment your list into groups of people with different needs, regions or characteristics (language). Of course, your list may not contain this information. It can be challenging to know about your subscribers when all you have is a name and email address! This is a good opportunity to update your form and invite people to fill in missing fields so you can better target future communications.

Communicating, especially in times of crisis, with people with whom you have no relationship can be frustrating for recipients. Verify that the message you send is useful to your audience. This is how you build a relationship of trust!

3. Who communicates: the importance of clearly identifying yourself


While our email boxes are overwhelmed, it’s important that you, as a sender, clearly identify yourself in order to stand out from the crowd. An email sent by someone we know and from whom we expect to receive a message is more likely to be seen, opened and read.

What to do:

  • Do not use a noreply@ address! This will alienate your recipients, who may want to reply and ask questions.
  • Try not to use an informal info@ address. As much as possible, use a first and last name, or a warm team address that will establish a bond of trust. If you have used an address in the past, keep it, as it is more likely to be recognized by your recipients!
  • Use your company’s domain to send your mailings and authenticate it. If you use a third party platform for your mailings, it is very important that this domain is authenticated. It’s simply a matter of telling all the servers on the route between you and your recipient that the email actually comes from your organization. Contact your email provider for all the details.
  • Ask your recipients to add your email address to their address book. This will allow mail servers to assign your mailings weight and credibility.
  • As much as possible, always use the same email address for all your mailings. Changes will always lead to mistrust and possible problems with the recognition and credibility of your mailings, by your recipients, the servers processing your email, and anti-spam filters.
  • As discussed in the section: The importance of communication in times of crisis: What to communicate and how, your choice of spokesperson can also be associated with the current event. For example, sending a sincere message from your founder will help an audience understand the importance of the announcement, while highlighting the brand values they have built with so much heart.

    4. Keeping in touch: communicate frequently to cultivate relationships and increase your chances of being heard


    If you send only one communication per year, it is very likely that your list is not up to date at all. You run the risk of having very high rates of invalid addresses and spam complaints from people who don’t remember you exist. Think about how you feel when you receive a holiday card from a former real estate broker or financial advisor you’ve only met once! These complaints can impact your ability to send emails — even to recipients who do want to receive your messages.

If your email list has not been used for a long time, it’s critical that you address your audience in a thoughtful way.

What to do:

  • Once you’ve taken all steps to ensure compliance and optimization of your list (see: Identifying your audiences: Targeting recipients to increase efficiency and minimize risk), prepare a first mailing.
  • This first mailing should tell your recipients what to expect — the kinds of messages you will be sending and how often they will hear from you. In times of crisis, it can be difficult to maintain a certain routine. Set expectations by drawing inspiration from the government that holds a press briefing every day, mentioning for example that you will send one mailing per week or one mailing per month, depending on your organization’s level of activity.
  • Stick to this commitment: communication is based on a relationship of trust. In the event of a major problem, you can describe the communication as “Exceptional” or “Urgent” in the title, but keep in mind that your recipients may be dealing with other emergencies; measure your words as much as you do as the frequency of your mailings.
  • Once the crisis has passed, make sure you maintain a consistent mailing schedule. You’ve built a relationship that is both beneficial and relevant. You can change the frequency, but be sure to communicate this clearly to your recipients. Create a content calendar that helps you strategize and plan your next mailings, which can take a whole new twist after the crisis. We’re already imagining what’s possible, aren’t we?

    5. Optimization: Tracking metrics to improve communications


    Even more in times of crisis, preparing your next message should start with an analysis of your mailing statistics. Your mailing platform will show you exactly what was opened, clicked… and even who clicked on which link. This is a very powerful way to adapt your message to the needs and concerns of your recipients!

What to do:

Unopened emails

  • Your first email wasn’t opened? Draft and send a little reminder message — particularly if your first message was important..
  • Make sure your subject line is clear and explicit. It’s critical that people can identify exactly what you are talking about.
  • Make sure you include a preheader that adds additional information. A preheader appears in the recipient’s mailbox before they even open your email. It can help people understand what the message contains and why it is relevant.
  • Prepare your campaign by creating a group based on your segmentation criteria; simply select the emails that have not been opened.
  • Draft a slightly different title and introduction to test new ways of approaching recipients in this segment.
  • Unless there is an exceptional circumstance and you absolutely need an answer, it’s best not persist if recipients continue to ignore your emails. It is possible that they simply do not display images in their email, so their activity is not being tracked.

Clicks on links

  • You can easily see which links your subscribers have clicked on. We recommend systematically checking these metrics, as they will give you valuable information.
  • Identify which links have generated the most interest. This will help you develop future content. List articles that were clicked on most and prepare follow-up emails. Create slightly different messages based on people’s interests. For example: provide more information about a service or item that interests your recipients; or develop more content that relates to a popular article.

The skill of accurately tracking communications is a major asset in email communications! If it is a good practice in normal times, in times of crisis it can become a key component of your communications strategy by allowing you to improve the likelihood that people will engage with your messages.

6. Your last-minute checklist: what to look for before you hit Send


Before sending your communication, there are a lot of little details to check. By now your message has been read, reviewed and approved by you and your team. Next, make sure you send test emails to ensure that your content is displayed correctly and that all secondary elements are appropriate!

What to do:

  • Send yourself a test email. You can also send it to one or two other people who can verify that there are no typos. You’ll also want to see how your email appears in different email clients. This can be challenging!. For example, Outlook is known to display emails differently. If necessary, test the text and HTML versions of your email separately.
  • Do not hesitate to send another test email after each round of changes. This is how email marketing specialists catch errors!
  • Is your email subject line clear and concise? Can it be improved?
  • Is your email sender name recognizable? Has the email address been authenticated? Is it written correctly? Check that there are no errors or unwanted spaces.
  • If you used [first_name] [last_name] merge fields, check that the field names match the information in your database and make sure all information is clearly displayed.
  • Have you added a link that allows recipients to display your email in their browser?
  • Do you have a line reminding subscribers why they are receiving this email (“You are receiving this message because you have asked to stay up to date on…”)
  • Are all images displayed correctly?
  • When you move your mouse over the images, does clear alt text appear for people who use an email reader?
  • Is the contrast between the text and the background strong enough to be legible? Is the font size large enough to be accessible to all your recipients?
  • Do all links work? Do they point to the right places? (Yes, you must click on every link to make sure!)
  • Are all special characters displayed correctly?
  • Are your required unsubscribe link and mailing address present and legible?

That’s it! You can now click Submit! Still hesitating? Would you like us to take a look at your test email? Feel free to contact us. It will be our pleasure to help you make it perfect.

Our mission is to help organizations connect with the people who are important to them. Asking us for help is about allowing us to be what we aspire to be — this is why doing the meaningful work that we love.

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Author Isabel Lapointe

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