Stock markets have crashed, borders have closed, and it appears the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to get worse before it gets better. The impact on businesses is being felt everywhere — travel bans, supply and delivery delays, production and forecast adjustments, and stay-at-home orders.
As organizations adjust to these new uncertainties, communications professionals need to keep a clear head, stay ruthlessly focused on the future, and use the current “down time” productively. As the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned, the greatest enemy may not be the virus itself but rather the fear, rumors, and stigma associated with it. “Our greatest assets are facts, reason, and solidarity,” according to WHO.
In this atmosphere, we’ve advised our clients to only use trusted, verifiable sources of information, such as the WHO, the Centers for Disease control and Prevention (CDC), and national and local health authorities.
It’s a good idea to designate someone in your organization who will check for updates daily and ensure the flow of current, accurate information that will help you debunk rumors and make better decisions.
Make sure your communications are people-oriented and sensitive in all messaging to the concerns of your stakeholders – staff, customers, suppliers, contractors, your community, the media, and others specific to your business.
Here are some specific activities we recommend:
Communicate proactively with your key stakeholders: employees, customers, business partners, vendors, and any government regulators or oversight agencies. They want to know what specific steps you are taking. Absence of information creates doubt.
- In all communications, strike a forthright tone that avoids clichés and platitudes. Tell what you are doing and how you are preparing for the rapidly changing environment. In times of crisis, maintaining your credibility as an honest presenter of accurate information is key.
- Since many outcomes are possible, it is best to consider a variety of scenarios and not speculate in your communications. Respond only to facts based on reputable sources, noted earlier.
- Beware of rumors and scammers. Every crisis of this nature brings out opportunists who will try to capitalize on fear, but also well-intentioned people who unwittingly share inaccurate information. Be mindful of this and use credible sources.
The COVID-19 is a story with an unclear ending. What is clear is that the human impact is already tragic and that companies have an immediate imperative to protect their employees, address business challenges and risks, and help mitigate the outbreak in whatever ways they can.
For more information on crisis planning and communications for coronavirus, please contact Darren Richards at email@example.com.
This information is based on best practice recommendations from Tucker/Hall, the Institute for Crisis Management, the International Association of Business Communicators, and McKinsey & Co.