Last week I received an email from a service provider who shall remain nameless. The subject line said…
Subject: Important message
Seriously. That was the subject. There’s so much wrong with that line that it’s hard to know where to start. Thank goodness they didn’t add the ! to emphasize its importance.
During a situation such as the COVID19 pandemic…crisis situations require the most concentrated and careful communication efforts.
Our subject, or headline, is what tells readers what’s coming and what to do. I’d wager that there’s no more important time to have a good subject line than during a crisis.
I have three important tips to keep in mind when you’re writing crisis communications.
Tip 1: Start by asking yourself a simple question: Do I really need to send this message?
That “important message” I mentioned above? It wasn’t important. The contents revealed nothing specific, just that the service provider was “monitoring COVID19 carefully” and that their consultants and clients are their top priority. Everyone is saying the same thing. Tell me something new, or don’t tell me at all.
If it’s worth it to send a message during a crisis, it will contain:
- Information people must have to use your service or gain benefits from what you offer.
- Helpful tips your readers can apply to their work/life during the crisis.
Sending an update just for the sake of an update is a waste of your time and your readers’ time. If it’s the right message, they’ll remember you after the crisis. And if it’s the wrong message, they’ll remember you, too. So, make sure it’s the right message.
Tip 2: Tell the reader what the message is about in the subject line or headline.
We are inundated with information right now. We’re at home for hours on end. Some of us may watch TV. Others are on social media. People are glued to their computers and smartphones. Information overload is taking a toll.
Now more than ever, you’re going to need to be direct and inform readers about what’s coming. Help them sort your message into a read now or read later category. Or, give them something they can easily search for in the future.
A few examples from my inbox:
Subject: How employers can make remote work pain free
Subject: Live virtual leadership training to galvanize your response initiatives
Subject: Protecting our members and our employees during the COVID19 outbreak (full email here)
Subject: When life is unpredictable, LastPass can help (read full email here)
Each of these subject lines tells us what’s contained in the message and how that information can help us. They also illustrate the importance of understanding what’s on the reader’s mind during this crisis—remote work issues, leadership skills, and what’s going on at my bank.
Tip 3: Let design help you. Use headings, bullets, and concise copy.
Once you have a good subject line, your work is not over. You must make sure your communications during a time of crisis are concise and easy to read.
After school had been closed for two weeks, I received an email from my son’s principal. It was 721 words and seven paragraphs long. Even as a avid reader, I was overwhelmed. I scanned the message and put it aside to read later.
That message was begging for headings, bullet points, and links to other sources that provide more information. If there was urgent action required, I missed it.
Keep your message concise and use formatting tools to make it easy for readers to take in the message you need to communicate.
These are hard times. For the people writing the messages and the people receiving them.
If you have a message that you’re not sure about sending, or if you need help writing a crisis communication, contact me. I’m here to help.