Seven Steps to Communicating During Coronavirus

Updated: Mar 27, 2020

Right now the world is changing faster than people, organisations and even governments can react with the outbreak of coronavirus. Whether you’re a small home office enterprise, mid-size business or large organisation, how you communicate to staff, suppliers, stakeholders and customers right now and in future is critical. Zea-Smith Associates has created a seven-step public relations ‘Comms Shot’ for businesses with little or no experience of this situation, or do not have access to a publicist or media agency. Step 1 Establish what’s happened – what/where/when/why/how/time. These are known to journalists as the six wise men. Step 2 Gather as much information as you can from respected sources, whether that’s your local authority, specialist agencies, law enforcement, regulators or government department. Make sure data is up to date. Remember, the people you’re going to be talking to are probably as unprepared as you. Step 3 Call the Hands. Gather your team and get an overall picture of what’s going on. Think of this situation report as an initial health check. Ideally, you need to have key decision makers around you – heads of department or relevant experts. Step 4 Prepare a response together that reflects purpose and brand values. If it sounds fake, it won’t work. When communicating, ensure the message is reliable and consistent across the organisation. Pick key spokespeople now. They must be authoritative and speak with purpose or an expert with specialist knowledge. This may not be the CEO, chairman, VP or president of the company. Step 5 General Patton once said: “A plan is only a plan until the first bullet is fired”. Human events generate human responses, and everything won’t necessarily go to plan, so check in with your staff as they are currently under pressure and doing things they either didn’t expect to be doing that day or beyond their skill set. Step 6 Prevent information voids – think and herd suck. If people don’t know, they follow the herd so clearly communicate in simple, understandable phrases what has happened, how you are responding operationally and what your next steps are with a call to action. Before issuing to media, send it first to members of your key team and – if required – gain approval from senior team. Take a deep breath, and ask if they’re happy with the response, adjust if needed then issue to employees.

Now you need to communicate to the rest of your organisation, customers, supply chain, contractors and people you interact with who are vital to your operation. Your people are your most important tool available to you right now, so use them as your advocates and ambassadors.

Step 7 The communication pump is primed and beginning to flow. Don’t just leave it there. It’s like a long car journey, you’ve started the engine and set off. Now it’s a rest-stop and chance to inspect the tyres and oil. Check in with senior staff and get feedback on how the message has been received.

You need to monitor and measure the responses – the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s as important as the message itself. If your employees don’t get it, neither will your customer. Don’t flood people with information, but if you need to, gather your team in three/six hours to engage with them and if needed modify your message accordingly. Traditionally, people turned to radio, TV and evening papers for news. Now it’s Twitter, Facebook, Telegram and TikTok. Go there and check to see what’s happening. Also look at internal company comms intranets and message boards. Also see what competitors or the market is doing. Respond respectfully to social media posts considerately if you feel it’s needed, but don’t feed the trolls. Even though you might want to, your job is to pour water on the fire and take the heat out of the situation. What Next? Rinse/repeat this process on a daily basis, until – as a team – you feel you are beyond the crisis point. And remember, when it’s over, thank people for going beyond their comfort zone, stepping up to the plate and joining you on the front line. A small care package or moral boosting event for your team is probably now called for, but ensure you’re 1.5 apart! Blog post inspired by @RodCartwright and Matt Hodges-Long, based on PRCA guidelines for practitioners. While this crisis communications “Comms Shot” is not exhaustive, we hope these insights assist, but if you have specific questions or require assistance, please contact our team via our website By Nick Zea-Smith, Director, Zea-Smith Associates PR

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