COVID 19 communications: how to talk through the current pandemic
By Lumina Communications
In some people’s eyes, we’re in the middle of a horrendous pandemic which is likely to linger for years. In the eyes of others, we are a few months from a viable therapeutic treatment or vaccine, likely to render the virus a distant memory by early next year.
No one really knows what the course of the coronavirus will turn out to be, whether our recovery will be v-shaped or u-shaped. And it is precisely that lack of certainty has been a real impediment to organizations that want to say something but are worried that they’ll say something which will prove to be wrong and require them to eat crow sometime down the road.
Our view is a bit different. We don’t know where this disease is going either, but we are convinced that remaining silent at a time when people are hungry for information and leadership is a really bad idea – one that is likely to erode confidence in our institutions, not build it. In uncertain times leaders face questions they may not even have answers to. Crisis communications best practices teach us that we need to communicate early and often with key constituencies throughout a crisis. Even if you’re still trying to understand the extent of the problem, be honest and open to maintain credibility
So, here’s what we are telling our clients:
Know your key audiences – employees, customers, vendors, investors, neighbors, etc. – and try to see the situation through their eyes. Try to have some empathy for their situation. Are they stuck at home with kids? Furloughed? Unable to work temporarily? Shut down by their county? Update them regularly. Be candid about what you know as well as what you don’t know. And remember that brevity is always appreciated; long-winded, legalistic messages are unhelpful and counterproductive.
Understand that your company, your customers, and your customers’ customers may each have been affected differently by the pandemic. While business as usual may not be an option for them, your company may be in a position to offer some much-needed relief. That could take the form of technical solutions that enable customers to work through the crisis, relief from certain normal fees, or waivers from contract conditions that may prove burdensome during the outbreak. A little empathy and generosity goes a long way and will be well-remembered, and will likely pay dividends long beyond the temporary sacrifice you may be making.
If a company is publicly traded, it has special responsibilities to communicate what it knows about the impact of the virus on its operations and revenues. Many of our publicly traded clients have opted not to provide full year guidance, where they may simply lack the visibility. Reassuring investors that you will restore transparency as soon as possible is key.
At Lumina Communications, our advice is to have courage and be transparent. Leaders need to communicate without fear of doing the wrong thing. This requires companies to communicate when they don’t have all of the facts, to reveal as much as they can about sensitive information, and to be careful to correct mistakes without worrying about the repercussions.
That’s not always easy, but it’s something we may be in a position to help with. Feel free to reach us at: firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d be happy to talk it over.
Lumina Communications will host an invitation-only webinar to help marketing and communications professionals figure out how to prioritize their news and best present it to the media. Join us and register to attend.
PR Playbook: Elephants in the Newsroom – the coronavirus, racial unrest in our country, and impending election
When: June 25th, 10am Pacific, 1pm Eastern