Tips for Communicating During the Coronavirus Crisis

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Michiko Morales

It’s been a fast-moving and uncertain couple of weeks as we all navigate a new normal due to the coronavirus pandemic. As technology companies adjust to the nationwide shutdown, the importance of having a clear, strategic public relations strategy in place is now paramount.

During a time of crisis like this, it’s critical to maintain a measured, consistent voice and keep the channels of communication open. Based on our experience managing crises, we want to share some tips for communicating with the general public, customers and clients, employees and the news media during the coronavirus crisis.

Informing the community in which you work and live

Create a central public resource. We recommend creating a dedicated webpage that is linked from the front page of your company’s website. It should include the following information:

  • Whether or not any of your employees or work sites have been exposed to the virus. You do not need to identify employees, but it is important to communicate whether there are any active or monitored cases tied to your company or work sites.
  • Preventative and precautionary measures you are taking as a company. Share details about how you are prioritizing employee, client and customer safety such as if your organization is shifting employees to working from home, reducing nonessential travel, implementing additional cleaning procedures and any other proactive measures to minimize the risk of exposure to the community.
  • Status of operations. Explain whether your physical locations are open or not and detail measures you’re taking to ensure business continuity. Note if you anticipate any disruptions. Highlight that you are continuously monitoring the situation and will be reassessing frequently as the crisis continues to evolve.
  • Links to external resources. Provide links to credible, authoritative sources of information about the pandemic like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Center.
  • Contact information for company spokespersons. Provide specific names and corresponding phone numbers and email addresses for people within your company who are available and can be responsive to any questions.

Keep your employees connected. Making sure team members are kept in the loop is critical to good working relationships and maintaining morale. In addition to sharing the above information, we recommend the following:

  • Commit to communicating early and often. Crises require a high degree of transparency and regularly sharing your company’s plans for responding to the crisis can reduce panic and anxiety among your team members.
  • Explain measures being taken. Share details about how you are ensuring employee safety and, if shifting employees to working from home, explain how that process will work and what the expectations are.

Apprising clients and customers

Share details about your contingency plans. Proactively provide information about your plans for ensuring business continuity. It can include how your company is using collaboration tools to keep your team members connected when working remotely, and how frequently you expect to re-evaluate your plan as the situation continues to evolve.

Reassure them about your commitment. Restate your focus on serving clients and customers during this transitional time and how your adjustments for the current crisis reinforce your mission statement and company value.

Reaching out to the news media

It’s OK to not be a part of the story right now. If your company has expertise and resources to offer that’s truly relevant to the coronavirus crisis, by all means share it with reporters. But be careful about making tenuous connections that can appear to be entirely self-serving. Reporters are turned off by companies that try to piggyback the news cycle with “stretch” pitches that aren’t directly related to the issue at hand.

Don’t try to profit from the crisis. If your business is minimally impacted by the crisis, now is not the time to tell everyone things are great. There are a lot of businesses making very hard decisions about headcounts and operating margins, and it’s best to be sensitive to the serious challenges of others in the business community.

Hold off on making major announcements. Until the crisis reaches a peak and a return to normalcy appears likely, hold your major announcements about new products or services or new sources of funding. Until a more certain future is in sight, your company’s news will get lost among the current, pressing concerns about human health and economic impacts.

Focus on industry trades. Pitch only targeted, industry-specific and relevant stories to industry trade publications. Their writers are committed to reporting what is happening in the industry, and their readers still want to read stories about topics other than coronavirus.

Other considerations

Adjust your sales and marketing approach. Talk to your colleagues who are working on the front lines and find out what they’re hearing from customers, clients and prospects and what the general mood is. Revise your messaging and sales and marketing strategy to reflect the current circumstances and to avoid appearing tone deaf.

Modify your approach to social media. Crises are times to demonstrate empathy and your tech company’s membership in a larger community. Instead of promotional posts about your products, services and accomplishments, make statements of support for businesses directly impacted in your community. Share any company initiatives – such as donations, fundraising and community projects – that you’re launching in response to the crisis. Now is the time to build goodwill by being part of the solution.

Engage your PR team. Use the opportunity of a relative slowdown in normal media attention by using your PR team to refine your key messaging and update your positioning, revisit executive bios and make revisions to bring them up to date, take on any projects that have been sidelined, and write content that can be used later as byline articles or blog posts.

If we can assist with your crisis communications, request a consultation today!

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