We do crisis. It’s what some of us do, week-in and week-out. Not the true first-responder type of crisis, but the who-do-you-call-when-things-are-looking-bad type of work. For some of us in public relations, we gravitate toward the type of counsel and work that’s needed when problems are happening, or imminent or just slightly visible in the distance. But the past two weeks have had a different flavor altogether.
Here are some quick observations based on past experiences and after just two weeks of this Covid-19 chaos.
- Remember the inside team: A few years ago, we worked with Community Hospital in Munster, Indiana when a patient presented with the first US case of the deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). We were reminded during that crisis of the importance of keeping internal audiences (employees, vendors, current patients) updated daily on the situation, to provide reassurance and prevent panic. We provided an update every day at the same time, so everyone was reassured they would get the latest and greatest information and didn’t need to go running around to find it. It lowered everyone’s blood pressure, some literally and all figuratively. The same applies today. If you haven’t already established a regular schedule of internal communications updates for your organization, now is the time.
- Seek out communications pros: More companies/organizations are realizing the importance of good communications and are using their own professionals or hiring professionals to do it. Thank goodness. Thoughtful communications are more critical than ever, especially in a long-lasting crisis like this one. Use your best communications talent – inside or outside the organization – to share information clearly and compassionately.
- Choose your spokesperson carefully: The CEO is not always the best person to communicate in delicate times. During the MERS crisis, the hospital was fortunate to have a Chief Medical Information Officer, an M.D. who was also a great communicator. And the fabulous CEO knew to support the CMIO and let him do the communicating.
- Email with caution: People are opening and reading email more often and more carefully than ever. But we’re quickly re-entering the phase of email clutter, so companies need to be careful from this point forward of how much they send. It must be truly informational and relevant to be sent. If it’s not, or if it’s business-as-usual, don’t send it. Too soon, as they say.
- Mind the media: The news media are understaffed and overwhelmed trying to cover the ever-evolving COVID-19 pandemic and the many impacts it’s having. If your organization has truly helpful and relevant information related to the crisis to share, the media will likely welcome it and help communicate it to the general public. If you’re trying to pitch unrelated or self-serving news, again, it’s too soon.
Helping organizations survive – and even thrive – in a crisis is communications at its best. But given the potential severity and length of this particular crisis, this will be a true test for all of us, and we all need to give each other grace and support. We’re available for a free boost of grace, support and advice if you need it. Isolate, but please continue to communicate.