For communicators, the next few weeks will be about adapting to new and ever changing circumstances, while adhering to the principles of good crisis communications.
While initial damage control is always the first objective, proper crisis and issues management is not simply “firefighting”. Case studies of the most successful crisis management situations always have careful planning, decisive execution and effective communication at their core.
Experience to date in this crisis shows how vital responsive engagement is - we are working with a growing number of our clients delivering communications strategies and plans to help mitigate the operational and reputational risks posed by this unprecedented situation.
Adapt the plan
Hopefully, you will have had a crisis communications plan in place well before now and, while you might not have envisaged the need for one specific to the impact of a global health pandemic on your business, the guiding principals will still hold. A proper plan should lay out appropriate communication strategies, monitoring approach, processes for approving and disseminating information and, crucially, the roles and responsibilities of an approved crisis communications team. Adapt the plan based on how you anticipate COVID-19 impacting on your company.
Put in place processes to ensure that you have a reliable stream of up-to-date and accurate information from all relevant authorities about COVID-19 and how it may affect your organisation. Share updated information with your colleagues and stakeholders to help them make decisions.
Stay on message
Key messages are the main points of information you want your audience to hear, understand, and remember. Effective messaging will align with the interests and concerns most important to your stakeholders. During a crisis ensure that your messaging is simple, credible, accurate and delivered in a timely and consistent manner.
Identify everyone in your stakeholder ecosystem and create or update a comprehensive contact list. Ensure that you are transparent and share what is known and unknown about the COVID-19 situation as it relates to your organisation and its key stakeholders. Optimise your communication channels to distribute audience-specific messaging and materials where appropriate.
For many organisations the focus up to now has been on internal communications. In any crisis however, those delivering the message to stakeholders are vital in helping key audiences put a face to how the organisation is responding to a crisis. As we have already seen in the current crisis, how a spokesperson handles public and media queries is vital in establishing trust and credibility in an organisation. Make sure your spokesperson is trained to deliver your agreed messages through whatever channel you chose to communicate.
Adapt and improvise
Monitor and evaluate your efforts on an ongoing basis and change your communications approach as needed. Regroup daily and assess the efficacy of your approach. Keep track of any learnings during the crisis that will help you in future. Monitor how the conversation is evolving, address misinformation and gather feedback about the response. Each coming day will bring new challenges and it is important that you are flexible enough to adapt.
During this trying time we are encouraging all of our clients and partners to maintain an attitude of preparedness and collaboration. We are seeing first hand how vital a role good communication is having in giving assurances to stakeholders, both internally and externally, and helping minimise fear and uncertainty.
As communicators, we play a vital in role in protecting our organisations during this once in a lifetime issue and, crucially, better preparing our organisations for when normality returns.