Even business leaders with decades of experience navigating crises have found the last two weeks to be unprecedented. The COVID-19 pandemic’s complexity, unpredictability and sheer scope present a crisis communications challenge unlike any other in recent history. With little certainty right now — other than the promise of continued uncertainty — it’s natural to want to wait to communicate until you know more. But delaying or limiting communications is a risky choice that can add to the unease of your employees and customers. No matter what your business is, here are five basic tips to keep in mind as part of your overall communications strategy to protect your business.
- Be present and sincere — and communicate: No one knows when this will truly end. Your stakeholders want to hear from you. Don’t underestimate the value of being present. Regardless of your strategy for navigating this crisis, communications are most effective when they are honest, thoughtful and meaningful, even if you can’t say much. And don’t underestimate the value of listening. These are trying times and stakeholders want to know that you are engaged and there for them.
- It’s okay not to have all the answers: The current unpredictability means no one has all the answers. Whether you are shuttering a school or store, guiding a company that has suffered losses or delivering public health guidance, you can be candid that information is limited and that you and your team are making decisions informed by the best and most current information. And when in doubt, cite credible sources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to back up your points.
- Be thoughtful about what you’re saying: COVID-19 is 100% of the story today. But the time will come when it’s retreated from the forefront of our collective consciousness and legal issues that it caused will emerge. What you say now during the pandemic — especially internally and in writing — could resurface down the road in litigation when the concerns subside.
- Identify who you’re focusing on: Make sure you understand who your audience is. You can’t be all things to all people — and you don’t need to be. News about COVID-19 is everywhere and there is constant appetite for more from all quarters. Instead of trying to fill that void, know who you’re talking to and what message you want to send.
- Be active, visible and in control: You don’t need to tweet every five minutes or hold daily press conferences. But you should be visible on all platforms and mediums in which you normally participate. If you aren’t, others will fill the void. This also means that communicators must have the tools to do their jobs. Be sure there is a clear chain of command and everyone within the organization knows and abides by it. Make sure you have a clear process for your stakeholders and media to contact you and receive prompt responses.
As the number of cases around the world grows, Faegre Drinker’s Coronavirus Resource Center is available to help you understand and assess the legal, regulatory and commercial implications of COVID-19.