Building a brand connection during a crisis

I first heard about a “mysterious pneumonia virus” back in December when I was alerted to it by my colleagues in Shanghai who were watching it closely. The holidays came and went and by mid-January, Disney’s Asia theme parks were shuttered, with the Paris and domestic parks and resorts following suit by March.

As crisis communicators, it was go time. In those early days in January, we knew how important it was to stay informed (our team started daily reports of latest health information from the WHO and CDC); to get ahead of our communications needs (we developed more than 15 different scenario plans, and to date we’ve used almost all of them); and to find ways to share this information and support our colleagues around the world in any way we could.

As I reflect on what we’ve learned — and continue to learn — from this time, three important principles rise to the top:

1. STAY INFORMED — USE RESEARCH TO LISTEN, ADAPT AND ACT. In a crisis, information is paramount and when it comes to the pandemic, it’s a never ending spigot. We soaked it up, keeping our internal and external communications current and able to deploy in real-time. And research helped guide our path forward. For example, from the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report: Trust and the Coronavirus and similar reports we learned early on how important it was to focus communications on how we were prioritiz- ing health and safety for both our people and consumer and to do so in a candid way.

2. KEEP COMMUNICATION FLOWING TO YOUR TEAMS, YOUR CONSUMERS, AND YOUR PARTNERS. To meet the need for frequent, transparent communications, we leaned heavily to our owned digital channels, particularly our blog and social channels. And after knowing from research how important it was to hear from medical experts, our Chief Medical Officer became a chief spokesperson. She unveiled our approach, plans and ways we were addressing the pandemic digitally and in media.

We created a strong communication chain of command to disseminate information in real-time to our internal teams. Our teams helped us disseminate this information widely to our people, our consumers and also shared it in personal conversations and public forums with industry and government stakeholders.

3. FIND INNOVATIVE WAYS TO FOCUS ON WHAT YOUR BRAND DOES BEST. Our brand is known for bringing people together, so as we thought about how to deliver Disney magic remotely, digital experiences were the answer. Our marketing and PR teams quickly launched a website called #DisneyMagicMoments to bring the experience of being in a Disney park to the homes and hearts of our guests, and to maintain that connection our fans and cast members craved. For example, Disney’s Animal, Sciences and Environment Leader frequently appeared on the site and on his Instagram page, sharing special ways we were caring for our animals in this time.

What is clear coming out of this time, is that with everything changing from minute-to-minute, communicators should continue to help their brands act nimbly. To build and maintain brand confidence, it’s critical to share real-time decisions widely with all of your key constituencies. Gone are the days when an important business message stays inside a company’s walls. The best brands are using their communications as a free-flowing tool to educate, inform and maintain the connectivity that everyone can use, especially right now.

Stephanie Corzett is director, external communications and media relations, for Disney parks, experiences and consumer products at The Walt Disney Company