A Crisis Communication Plan Refresh in the Wake of COVID-19

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Written by Devynne Honsa

As growing public concern meets with event, conference, and venue closures, related travel cancellations and other shifts in plans related to COVID-19, companies are tasked with figuring out their own next steps as confirmed cases continue to increase across the globe. As companies evaluate the impact that the coronavirus reaction is having on the global and local economy, key decision-makers and communication teams must decide what immediate precautions and communication are necessary to inform and protect customers, clients and the greater community.

Properly communicating these precautions and addressing both internal and external audiences is essential, and a reminder that businesses of all sizes are served by having a solid crisis communication plan in place with proper advisement from communication professionals who are adept at navigating disruption to business as usual – whether it originates from a brand issue or circumstances outside our control.

Whether you are a business owner faced with the urgency of action or a PR professional faced with the need to develop a crisis plan the following outline will help to develop effective responses leveraging both proactive and reactive crisis management tactics to successfully maintain positive rapport with key audiences.

1. Identify Company Publics (and the primary concerns of each)

To begin your crisis communications plan, it is essential to identify a business’s key publics, or those different audiences that need to be communicated with in the event of a crisis. For most businesses, this includes, but is not limited to: employees, investors, customers, and potential customers.

Identifying your publics is the first step to protecting your community and to selecting the proper ways to relay essential information to them. Each of these groups has different primary concerns and messaging developed should reflect that understanding.

2. Decide on what communication is required (based on existing and potential outcomes)

Contributing more noise, or saying something “just to say something,” won’t ultimately support the relationship between a brand and those key publics. Consider if your business needs to address the coronavirus, how it might be done in a way that aligns with company values and brand personality. Plan to assess daily what parts of this crisis are directly related to your business and your publics, and what actions need to be taken. This may look like instituting a daily huddle throughout the day with key decision-makers. Don’t send out messaging just to send it — make sure that you have clear, meaningful messages that are actually
be helpful to your audiences.

3. Make Necessary Business Adjustments (in accordance with company mission and values)

If you have decided that action needs to be taken, take it promptly. The true risk in a crisis situation, assuming direct impact, is to stay silent, or keep all conversations behind the conference room door. Negative external perception has the potential to grow only through a lack of communication, brand leadership and direction. As developments about COVID-19 are released regarding levels of transmission, new treatment options, and new recommended precautions, it is crucial to make temporary changes to your business operations to assure that your staff and consumers are properly protected. Decide in advance what these changes will be so that if/when they come to pass, you can move quickly.

4. Provide Relevant, Accurate Information and Resources (and Update Regularly)

Information regarding the coronavirus is evolving by the minute, therefore it is essential to stay updated with the most current information from the CDC and the WHO. Refer to these organizations for any resources and information that your publics would need to stay informed. Effectively communicate what steps your business is taking to address the concerns, and update them accordingly.

5. Over-Communicate as needed (but Don’t Sensationalize)

There is a fine-line between giving proper information and updates, and sensationalizing a sensitive issue. There is much about the coronavirus that is unknown, so it is important to not sound alarming in your messaging or falsely promise a business solution for it. Instead, provide facts and suggestions based on official organizations’ information. News surrounding COVID-19 can change rapidly, so be sure to communicate the appropriate precautions you are taking for the circumstances at hand.

However, do leverage company channels to ensure important communication and updates reach audiences wherever they are spending time online (email. social, etc).

With a clear crisis plan in place, businesses can maintain audience loyalty and serve as a valuable resource. Plans should always be flexible enough to allow the communications team to nimbly support key audiences while ensuring all communication is reflective o of brand values.

About Devynne Honsa
Devynne is an Account Executive at BLND Public Relations, specializing in crisis communication and public relations strategy. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in Journalism with an emphasis in Public Relations from California State University, Long Beach.

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