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COVID-19 – Crisis communication in a time of Coronavirus

3 min read

Over 5,000 deaths worldwide; nearly 150,000 confirmed cases across 145 countries and territories; numerous sporting events and festival cancellations; major disruption to businesses and a possible recession looming. Now officially a pandemic, Coronavirus (COVID-19) is causing widespread panic and concern across the globe.

With predictions the virus is going to get worse before it gets better, it’s essential as a business owner to get a crisis communication plan set in place.

How your business might be impacted: potential crisis scenarios

Employees unable to attend work to meet quarantine requirements set by your federal government; An employee (or multiple) become sick – this could potentially mean a business branch must close to prevent the spread of infection;

The federal government imposes a nationwide lockdown – as seen in Italy – meaning all branches of your company within that country must close and business must halt.

Meet with your crisis management team

Now is the time to meet with your nominated crisis management team. You need to recruit the right people to portray the right image: think great leaders and communicators, experienced and with an ability to keep your employees and consumers calm. Remember that this is an incredibly daunting time, and people will need guidance and reassurance. Ensure your crisis management team is reminded and equipped with these skills.

So, what do you need to discuss?

Have a clear message, and show it

Think about how you want your brand to be perceived during this time. Think aware but calm; supportive of the community; cooperative and quickly-responsive; sympathetic. Consumers, clients and perhaps more specifically employees, will be watching and following your actions, so you need to set the right precedent from the get-go.

Saying it is only half the job – now you need to show it. For example, you may want to consider:
Implementing hand-sanitizing stations around the workplace and at any stores; Reminding employees of hygiene and basic protective measures as outlined by the World Health Organisation; Encouraging employees to work from home (if possible), and not to come to work if they feel even slightly unwell.

These are just a few of the first steps you should be taking immediately to communicate the right message.

Be easily accessible for both employees and consumers

Ensure you have channels in place to allow the direct communication of employees and consumers to specific persons (i.e. your crisis management team) with queries they might have regarding coronavirus.

Providing them with specific contact details and sending out regular emails or newsletters that answer any of the questions most regularly asked is a good way of controlling the message, preventing confusion and allowing everyone to stay updated. Again, this is going to be a challenging time, and communicating regularly is pivotal to preventing panic.

Have clear procedures and plans in place

Set out a plan so that in the event employees must work from home, it is communicated clearly, effectively and implemented quickly.

Provide the necessary information regarding how teams will stay on track; what will be done regarding work that can only be completed onsite etc.

Can you provide them with an estimated date of when they will return to work onsite or at the workplace? If you can’t, be honest and ensure employees you will be in regular contact to update them on any developments.

Prepare statements for all potential crisis scenarios, including those mentioned above.

Remember your message, and communicate it. Consider how daunting it will be for an employee if you tell them one of their colleagues has been tested positive for the virus, especially if they worked with them.

Be direct and assertive in telling those that have had contact to self-quarantine, but be sympathetic and offer support where you can.

Have quotes prepared from your company CEO, founder etc. to distribute in your newsletters and emails to showcase the support and comradery felt across the company. Let your employees know they are not alone.

Final word

Now is the time to demonstrate your organisational core values and reconnect with your community. The 24 hour live coverage will end, but the virus and the impact it has had on all of us won’t. Ride the storm by communicating frequently and plan campaigns over the coming months that are creative and engaging on a digital platform.

This isn’t a normal business crisis: Coronavirus is worldwide, and we have no idea when it will pass. You need to have a communication plan for every scenario.


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