We can use the basic building blocks for crisis communication to help communicators to navigate their way through this pandemic:
- FIRST: Have a plan: in the ideal world, everyone should already have a crisis communication plan in place, identifying high risk / high impact; high risk / low impact etc. identifying key stakeholders who need to be communicated with; best channels of communication to use; flow of communication / key messages. The minute the crisis hit, who needs to communicate what to whom. Very importantly, have a clear spokesperson during the crisis, this person should ideally be the leader of the organisation, e.g. Managing Director, Chief Executive Officer etc.
Linking it to the pandemic, I don’t think anyone anticipated this virus to be the magnitude of a global pandemic. But, having a plan in place of how to engage with your key stakeholders, it should at minimum include: employees, customers and suppliers. There are many more, but start planning around these.
- TWO Be responsive and give timeous feedback. It’s a very uncertain time for everyone. .
During a crisis there is a lot of uncertainty; communication is key.
Key things to communicate and to keep in mind:
- Respect: Respecting and adhering government decisions for lockdowns
- Will the business be open / closed
- Will the team be available / working remotely
- If anyone has questions, who can they contact
- Bring in the health message of social distancing / washing hands / sanitising
- THREE keep stakeholders updated.
The South African government has been a prime example of how it should be done, keeping the public up to date with the situation, what needs to be done, and the communication is regularly coming directly from the President. As South Africans we are going into lockdown from Thursday evening, and we understand the seriousness of the matter.
There are many events and conferences scheduled throughout the year, and there is a lot of uncertainty whether it’s going ahead or not. It’s important to let delegates know as soon as possible whether it’s going ahead / being cancelled / what is happening to bookings. Ditto for the tourism industry, what is happening to flight and accommodation bookings.
- FOUR stick to your guns. The message needs to be clear and consistent. This is what needs to happen; these are the parameters and these are the consequences.
- FIVE In any crisis situation empathy is very important. When ever there is a crisis people are impacted and we need to remember that we are dealing with human beings each dealing with in a different way. Be sure to highlight that in any communication
- SIX Keep in simple. Best way for people to listen and to remember things is to keep it simple. I have been seeing A LOT of communication; I do think a lot of it should be simplified to get the message across. We’ve just released an article on learning communication lessons from Millenials; and keeping things short & sweet are key.
- SEVEN take action. Basic example, it wouldn’t help saying we need to social distance ourselves and then to call a meeting where you need people in the same room. I have actually noticed a few press conference taking place where the media are invited into a room and the key message is about social distancing; leaders need to walk the talk and set the example.