Every business has suddenly been faced with the same crisis, at the same time. In these unprecedented times, it is essential to gear up internal and external communications quickly.
Things are changing quickly, and people need to know where they stand.
To help companies manage this crisis, I’ve shared five tips below:
1. Communicate regularly and clearly
One thing the government’s response has shown in the initial stages is that a lack of clarity leads to widespread confusion (and a level of panic too). Business leaders need to update staff as often as possible on areas such as company policy (e.g. working from home, childcare arrangements and sick pay) and any business continuity plans.
With government press conferences taking place every evening, businesses should seek to update their advice by the next working day so that everyone is clear on where they stand.
Relevant updates should also be shared with customers, either to reassure that the business is continuing as normal, that contingencies have been put in place, or in the worst-case scenario, that the business will have to reduce its offer or temporarily close.
2. Review planned activity
Scheduled social media posts, campaigns and events should all be reviewed urgently. Anything that goes against the current advice or does not reflect the current tone and sentiment of audiences, will cause reputational damage. Understand that for many this is an intensely emotional time, with health, wellbeing and finances at risk.
3. Become a trusted source
There must be careful management of messaging, ensuring that you focus on facts. Never repost or link to unverified information internally or externally. This can lead to rumours or potentially dangerous information being shared. Use official sources such as the government, NHS and WHO.
Where advice and updates from these sources has a business impact, spell it out in follow-up communications to staff and customers. If false information about your business circulates, be prepared to respond to it quickly. Setting up dedicated channels, FAQs, and briefing documents is a useful way of providing information, particularly for issues that affect a wide range of people.
4. Focus on employee wellbeing
It is likely that the current situation will take an emotional and mental toll. With advice changing regularly, those in communication will need to stay on their toes. Companies should look at ways of providing additional support focused on staff wellbeing.
This may include bringing in additional comms staff (e.g. for industries like health, hospitality and travel). An added benefit of this is that those same people can take over communications if team members go off sick or need to self-isolate.
5. Be visible, be human
Tell people how you are reacting to the crisis. Share ideas and tips, and use this as the opportunity to share the human side of your business. Encourage people to ask for help. Use technology to stay connected.
Demonstrate your understanding of the personal issues that people might now be facing – we’re all having to adapt quickly to this new reality.
And, if you are trying to project a message of ‘business as usual’, use the opportunity to be a reassuring voice, where appropriate. But don’t sound smug or too cocky. Things can change quickly.
The above tips were written for the Chartered Institute of Public Relations best practice hub, to help PR practitioners and communicators with the current situation. For the full set of resources, click here.
You can also find more advice relating to crisis communications here.