Crisis communications in a pandemic tell us PR basics work. Photo by Anastasia Gepp on Pixabay.
For those of us in the public relations business, this last month has been a 24/7 blur of news consumption, hasty plans and nonstop work for clients.
At the same time that we have been crafting coronavirus responses for clients, we have also been on the receiving end of messaging from our government leaders. Some of it has been good; some less so.
Whether business leaders are seeking to reassure their staff or clients, or government officials striving to convey important health information to the public, recipients of crisis communications messages all seek similar things.
Here are the five elements that should be present in any critical communication around COVID-19:
The Truth. When a crisis is occurring, stakeholders want the facts. They want to hear the truth, even if it’s negative or frightening, from their leader or business partner. While it’s important to be reassuring, it’s equally important that the magnitude of the crisis be communicated clearly.
What Leadership Is Doing in Response to the Crisis. After sharing the facts, tell your audience what you are doing in response. This is your chance to demonstrate that you are managing the crisis, not the other way around. If you are still assessing a situation and don’t yet have a complete response to share, say that.
How This Affects Me. People want to know what this means for them. Is your office still open? Is my community under containment? Is it safe to go outside, to the store, to meet friends? Anticipate the questions your staff, customers or the public will have, and answer them.
When We Will Hear from You Again. During a crisis, people want updates. A public health crisis like the coronavirus pandemic demands a daily update for the country. Be sensitive to any updates your own staff or clients may need. Assure them that you will reach out again, as you learn more or as the situation changes.
An Expression of Empathy or Humanity. This is a very frightening time. Remember to include some reassurances, when possible. This is not sugar-coating the truth; rather, it is communicating a sense of togetherness and the anticipation of better days ahead.