The media has had no shortage of high interest stories to cover this year. First there was the dreaded ‘B’ word, now we’ve moved on to the ‘C’ word. Coronavirus — obviously. When it comes to global viral outbreaks it would appear that, rightly or wrongly, the world has gone into panic mode, fuelled by sensationalist headlines and a distortion of the facts.
Governments and authorities need to communicate factual information, but as with any sharing of information the facts often get skewed and distorted in a game of social media Chinese whispers. The result is high volumes of ‘fake news’ causing unnecessary fear and a frustrating shortage of pasta and toilet roll in supermarkets across the UK.
It’s not just official sources and the media that need to be careful with how communication is handled throughout the pandemic. Organisations that find themselves affected in one way or another also need to pay particular attention to their communications plan in order to be effective without unduly causing concern or finding themselves in the centre of a PR nightmare.
So how can a knowledge of crisis communications benefit organisations impacted by Coronavirus? Here is a guide of how to communicate effectively and appropriately during this highly sensitive time:
- Be prepared: Being prepared is key; you want to control the narrative in any situation rather than let people come up with their own, so make sure you have a team and a plan in place well in advance. If your organisation does become affected by Coronavirus in any way then being prepared will enable you to act quickly and proactively. Tell people the steps you are taking to resolve any issues.
- Be empathetic and caring in your tone: If staff, customers, partners or end users are impacted then be empathetic to their predicament. Share as much information as you can as quickly as and regularly as you can. Again, showing that you are taking proactive steps to resolve the issue (where possible) will help.
- Make sure your information is accurate: It may seem obvious, but before you say anything be confident that what you’re saying is factual and accurate. Do not speculate and ensure all spokespeople are media trained and singing from the same hymn sheet.
- Don’t pretend to know everything: If you aren’t a medical professional don’t try to be! There is so much still unknown about Coronavirus that you could end up damaging trust in your brand and the credibility of the company if you try to fill in the blanks. However, you should know exactly what your organisation is doing and be able to articulate it clearly and concisely.
- Seek advice: Perfecting the balance between being caring and being ‘expert’ is a tough line to tread, and it’s even more important when the topic is so emotionally charged. Getting it wrong could not only damage the reputation of your organisation but it could add fuel to a fire that is already spreading pretty quickly. A good PR agency with a strong background in crisis communications will be able to advise you and guide you throughout the process.
Stay safe, stay calm and please remember to wash your hands!