With COVID-19 (Coronavirus) beginning to impact daily life and showing no signs of ending soon, if you haven’t begun communicating to your internal and external audiences, now is the time. In 2009, during the H1N1 influenza outbreak, I served as the PIO (public information officer) for a health care system and saw first-hand how when done correctly, communication can ease fear, increase trust and ultimately improve your brand.
Here are three tips as you consider your company’s response to this global health event:
- Start preparing now
- You don’t have to do it alone
Start preparing now
We have been bringing up COVID-19 and its impact on businesses for weeks. The majority of companies understand the threat that a global virus poses, but we’re still getting pushback from some who think people are overreacting. It’s important to recognize that preparation doesn’t equal panic. As we look at its impact on other countries, it’s easy to see how life may change for us soon. If you’re not planning now for what you’ll do if schools close or if one of your employees tests positive for the virus, you’re going to be caught flat-footed.
Bring together an interdisciplinary team to start planning for multiple scenarios and then communicate to your employees and your customers what you’re doing. Begin drafting templated materials for anticipated scenarios and keep a running list of frequently asked questions. Also, consider setting up a separate intranet and/or internet page as a clearinghouse of information.
Showing your target audiences that you’re taking this seriously and preparing now engenders trust in your company.
If you’re not yet sending out regular communications, now is the time. Regular, reliable communications mean your stakeholders aren’t spending time wondering what you’re doing or how this impacts them. Don’t overthink the content, even if it is short and sweet, these communications are invaluable.
Make sure you’re considering your tone – it’s important to convey a calm tone so you’re easing fears instead of raising them. You should also develop key messages and then repeat them often. From proper hand hygiene to what to do if you feel sick, reiterating your key messages are the fundamentals of crisis communication.
You don’t have to do it alone
Make sure you’re utilizing resources like the CDC in your communications. Chances are you don’t have epidemiologists or other medical professionals on staff and you’re not expected to be the expert medical resource. Other resources include OSHA, the World Health Organization and your state and local health departments.
Also, consider utilizing an outside resource for your response. A good crisis communication firm will be able to guide your organization to emerge from this situation with its brand intact.
Remember that the basic tenets of crisis communication apply to your COVID-19 response. To quote Warren Buffett, “…Get it right, get it quick, get it out and get it over.” Set yourself and your company up for success by beginning your crisis communication response now before you’re engulfed in a full-fledged crisis.