COVID-19 and Communications: How to deal with the crisis?
Declared as a pandemic, there is widespread concern about COVID-19. As this day dawned, businesses are facing a real threat that can jeopardize not only the health of employees, but the financial stability of the organization and the public’s confidence in it.
In such a situation, communications are crucial, and transparency is key.
Let’s take a look at six facets of the day-to-day work of communications and public relations professionals whose services may be needed, and the best practices to stay the course during this storm, the intensity and duration of which are unknown.
1. Crisis Management
As everyone knows, every organization must have a plan for crisis management and the tools need to be communicated effectively to all audiences. If you don’t have a crisis management plan, stop everything and work on it now!
Otherwise, it is the time to dust it off, reread it, adapt it and implement it!
- Gather your crisis cell and agree on a meeting schedule (ex. 8:00 a.m., daily).
- Identify your areas of vulnerability; make sure you have the right data and update it.
- Identify mitigation measures.
- Discuss possible scenarios and agree on a consistent communication approach.
2. Internal communications
Employees are your organization’s premier audience. It is essential to reassure them, not to be alarmist and to strengthen their trust in the organization by communicating frequently with them.
Daily internal emails that are sometimes of little interest will suddenly become popular, as employees are looking for answers to their questions, and want transparency and reassurance. Whether it is about best practices to protect against the virus or about guidelines related to your organization’s activities, it is important to share and update available information.
- Communicate frequently and with transparency: share organizational directives and key messages.
- Provide resources (contact person, telework options, etc.).
- Work closely with senior management and the Human Resources department.
- Always inform your employees first – nothing is worse than for them to learn about their organization in the media.
3. Media relations
Media coverage of COVID-19 is substantial. In February, the number of articles devoted to the virus increased steadily in Quebec alone, to 3,390. In the last two weeks of the February, the number of articles jumped by 55% compared to the end of January. As a public relations professional, you must consider the lack of availability of journalists to cover your story and opt for personalized media outreach. Conversely, journalists may be interested in your organization, either in the measures put in place or the impact of virus transmission on your business or in your industry.
In addition, it is essential to monitor media coverage on a daily basis in order to be the first to know if your company or industry is a subject in the news. A constant look at the headlines will allow you to discern and follow an emerging problem related to COVID-19.
- The news doesn’t stop. Keep communicating, while adjusting your approaches to your topics.
- Provide the necessary resources and additional information to the media.
- Position yourself in relation to the virus in your communications. For instance, you could explain the impact it has on your business and the measures implemented for the well-being of your employees.
- Monitor continuously in order to prepare the necessary strategies and tools in advance.
“In the event environment, there is a domino effect when clients cancel.” This was the title of a recent article in the French newspaper Le Monde, which highlighted the problems faced by firms specializing in event organization. In fact, from the inauguration, to the ribbon cutting, to the ground-breaking ceremony to international sporting events or conferences, participants will expect clear communication regarding necessary safety measures. They should be informed in advance of these measures and of the most recent recommendations from recognised authority. While COVID-19 does little to affect Canadians, companies need to be aware of best practices to minimize the impact of this threat on their operations, especially when they are international in nature.
- Share the actions you’ve taken with your event attendees; vary the means of communication by offering alternatives such as webcasts.
- Learn about best practices and visit government websites for the most up-to-date information (Quebec and Canada).
- Make sure you have the necessary sanitary facilities.
5. Investor relations
As markets are disrupted by fluctuations caused by the virus, investors are keeping an eye on their portfolios. On the other hand, the most experienced remain calm knowing that these are probably short-term shockwaves. That said, don’t wait to inform your shareholders if the concern is growing. Investors need to be informed first and foremost. Analyze the impact of the virus on your industry, the perception your investors and shareholders may have, prepare your tools and communicate! The watchwords? Anticipation and transparency.
- Build trust but be honest and clear in your communications.
- Mention the impact of COVID-19 on your business in your quarterly reports and other financial communications: whether minimal or significant, your investors want to know you have it under control.
6. Social media
Regardless of the size of your organization, it is imperative to monitor social media frequently in order to quickly capture any exchanges concerning your organization, or to respond quickly to a comment about COVID-19. Provide your social media team with a guide that outlines the best answers, as well as keywords to monitor. Ensure they are kept informed of your organization’s most recent decisions at all times.
- Add relevant keywords to your monitoring.
- Review your social media crisis management plan.
- Equip your social media managers with the necessary resources.
Communications and public relations professionals play an important role in any crisis, and the COVID-19 issue is no exception. In this capacity, they are responsible for helping organizations gain a solid understanding of the real risks involved and for developing the best strategies and tools to ensure optimal communication with all stakeholders.
We are interested in hearing your best communication practices on this topic. Send us your feedback!