We’ve previously written about how to communicate during COVID, and how not to communicate during COVID.

To close the circle, we’ve put our minds to how COVID might impact how we communicate in a world where it is no longer a pressing crisis, and even further down the road, where its impact is mitigated by proven treatments and, hopefully, an effective vaccine.

When the curve of new cases starts to flatten we’ll find ourselves in a critical time. If too many people relax distancing too soon, the curve will accelerate again. It’s really important that companies and organizations not become overly enthusiastic during this period.

The next phase will happen when we’ve had no new cases for several weeks, and our governments start to relax social distancing measures.  But, it won’t be ‘back to normal’.  While there may not be cases in your geography, there also won’t be a vaccine yet, meaning one person coming off a plane carrying the virus could start the lockdown cycle all over again. The situation will be that precarious.

We can expect changed consumer behaviour and public bans on large gatherings. As an example, some sports may return, but spectators will not.  And this phase could last for quite a while – until the arrival and wide-spread distribution of a vaccine.  So, lasting a year, or longer.

What we do know is that how we communicate will be guided by which of these phases we and our prospective audiences are living in. And here’s something that isn’t likely to change, even as circumstances do: people’s positive response to candour.

As we tell our clients, one of the positive results of living in an information culture is that audiences have finely tuned BS detectors. What the public response to our political leaders’ now-daily crisis updates tell us is that those detectors are set to full, and they are very likely to stay that way well into the future. Weary US audiences are turning to the plain-spoken and fact-centric briefings offered by New York governor Andrew Cuomo.

Cuomo is now in this third term. He’s been a highly controversial figure throughout his career. But that all feels like so much ancient history, because now Cuomo is a well-enunciated voice of fact in a cacophony of lies. It’s even more true of scientist Tony Fauci, who deftly sidesteps opportunities to call out the President’s nonsense while calmly correcting the record and offering practical, easily understood ways to respond to this viral threat (the COVID kind, not the nonsense kind).

So, if there’s a positive to come out of this horrible time, it may be that we’re all going to be held to new standard of authenticity and honesty. We must challenge ourselves, and the people we faithfully advise, to speak with candour. To say what we know, plainly and clearly, whether the news is good or bad. Just as more importantly, we need to say what we don’t know, with equal forthrightness and clarity. Audiences aren’t looking for bromides or panaceas; they’re looking for information that’s relevant to them and support that’s meaningful to them.

That’s a high standard. It’s also one that we should never stop holding ourselves to.