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Multicultural Crisis Communication: What COVID-19 Has Taught Us

As we continue to process the immeasurable effects of COVID-19 and move through the reopening phases in communities across the U.S., it’s important to take a step back and analyze how this pandemic is affecting different population segments and how brands are and should be responding.

Initial reports have shown that the coronavirus is much more dangerous for the multicultural audience, financially and from a health perspective. Outlets including The New York Times have reported that black communities are seeing higher infection and mortality rates due to health disparities and propensities. Financially, these amplified institutional inequalities span the spectrum and have truly put a strain on all global systems. For instance, according to Pew Research, a proportionately greater number of Hispanics work in the service industry and are at risk of unemployment because they are unable to work from home. Even as select business sectors are seeing initial movement in reopening phases, many businesses are opening with minimal staff and longer-term unemployment remains a threat.

All of this is to say – the world is dealing with a crisis that is not going away any time soon and now more than ever, brands need to adjust how they communicate their relief efforts, especially to multicultural audiences. Our Chief Operating Officer and President, Terrie Ard, recently discussed how during a crisis, companies should start by communicating with their internal audience – employees – which is just as important as the external audiences. However, when addressing multicultural communities, there are special considerations that must be taken so as not to appear insincere, opportunistic or tone-deaf.

For example, Benjamin Moore’s latest ad encourages Americans to ‘keep hard workers working’ and support small business owners and contractors, which are usually minorities, by hiring them to do work outside the home. They are also financially supporting the Painting Contractors Association (PCA) and providing virtual educational courses for small business owners to help navigate through the changes in their industry brought on by COVID-19.

In addition, the Coca-Cola Company is using its reach and influence, via social media, to help promote important and meaningful information from partner organizations including American Red Cross, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Salvation Army and Feeding America, among others.

Moments like this also serve as reminders that sub-audiences can be created from one day to the next and you need to be ready to recognize this to appropriately communicate with an audience that suddenly has a unique perspective and requires specialized communications. Publix and several other grocery chains have adapted their operations to cater to new target populations with dedicated shopping hours for seniors and first responders/healthcare workers. While the aging population is increasingly seen as one that benefits from this special attention, a company like Publix could not have predicted that first responders and healthcare workers would suddenly be a unique audience to which they would cater. But they did and it showed their commitment and concern.

Complex issues, like COVID-19, require a complex response. Here are some things to keep in mind when communicating to the multicultural audience now and through the next phases of this crisis:

  • Always be honest, authentic and respectful – everyone is at a heightened level of sensitivity;
  • Rely on your community partners – they know your brand and can help you reach this population;
  • Be flexible – as the needs of the community changes, so too will your messaging.

In a time when every brand is looking to demonstrate how they care about their customers, what’s most important is getting it right. Your team at Moore is committed to being the resource you need to ensure your message is relevant and authentic no matter the audience.

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