Crisis Communications in the Age of COVID-19

Questions to Consider When Communicating During an Emergency

At the start of 2020, no one could have predicted how the COVID-19 crisis would affect every aspect of our daily lives. The coronavirus has sent businesses, in all industries, reeling from closures and social distancing measures, leaving many with the new challenge of engaging their internal and external stakeholders and customers. 

Amid an emergency of any kind, urgent, clear communication is necessary to ensure your audiences, customers, colleagues, and employees are informed – this is where a crisis communications plan comes into play! 

For example, imagine you’re the general manager of a local transportation operator responsible for keeping your city’s bus system up and running during the coronavirus crisis. You know that your company’s primary spokesperson will be your CEO. A more local spokesperson, like the bus operations lead, will also be an important spokesperson.

Not only must you consider the urgent modification of services, but you must also prioritize the health and safety of your employees and passengers. The most relevant information to relay is that related to your operations and safety protocols, but what do these messages look like? This requires communication with several audiences – the public, your supervisors, and your team, among others.  To reach consumers, social media may be the best platform while for employees, an internal email may be more appropriate. Such nuances must be considered when developing a plan.

This unprecedented situation serves as a reminder of how critical such a plan is for all businesses in times of an emergency. While your crisis communications plans should be both company and industry-specific, there a few key considerations and best practices that should always be included:

1. Develop your key messages and necessary collateral

  • What do you need to ensure all messaging can be distributed quickly and efficiently?
  • Do you need to develop key messages, fact sheets, media responses, social media posts, etc.?
  • What do we want to say and why is it important?
  • What is the impact of NOT saying these things?

Proactively developing crisis communications messaging for various scenarios is an important way to get ahead of any crisis situation. Think about the most important messages to relay to your intended audiences and what content you should create to disseminate it. Your spokespeople should then be trained with the materials developed, ensuring they are equipped for likely situations that may ensue.

2. Identify your response team

  • Who are the primary spokespeople for your company?
  • Who are the best people to speak to the most important key messages?

Deciding who will be involved in the crisis response effort is a critical first step. Your organization should not only identify the internal and external spokespeople but determine who will be creating and disseminating the crisis-related content. This can include your organization’s key messages and best practices when communicating with others.  

3. Communicate early and often

  • Who do you need to get your message to?
  • What is the best way to communicate with them?
  • Do you have a standard system in place to get your message to them on a regular basis?

To get your message out, evaluate your owned platforms to determine which is the most effective to reach your intended audiences.

4. Stick to your company voice

  • What are your core company values?
  • How can you stay true to your company’s mission and incorporate it into all communications throughout the crisis?

Weaving your company voice into all of your communications is an important way to keep your messaging authentic and lucid.

5. Pivot as necessary

  • How are you measuring responses and changing course as circumstances change?
  • Do you have social media listening and media monitoring practices in place?
  • Do you have a Plan B?

Planning for the unexpected is critical to a successful crisis communications plan. Make sure you’re keeping track of all external communications and responding accordingly.

Communicating during a crisis is one of the most important elements of a workplace disaster. It is critical to communicate effectively with the internal staff, as well as with clients and also with media. Precise, timely, and relevant information is critical during any crisis and emergency. 

Need help creating a plan?

We’re happy to provide expert insight into audience mindsets, organizational priorities, and opportunities at each stage of the pandemic, which should be used to develop audience-specific communications plans. Learn more and check out our COVID-19 guides for nonprofits and businesses here.

Allison Smith

Allison Smith

Since joining Proof as a Fellow in January 2018, Allison has specialized in transportation, nonprofits, and consumer brands. She has a background in both digital and earned media and a deep bench in project management. She has built national, regional, and industry-specific digital, earned, and integrated campaigns for large organizations like Keolis, Call2Recycle, and Nutricia.

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