Four priorities for communicating about COVID-19

Sean Murphy

The coronavirus pandemic is unprecedented in its scope and uncertainty—causing many to react as the situation evolves, including how and what they’re communicating to stakeholders, from employees to customers. People are looking for reliable information and steady leadership. Here are four priorities to help your company communicate in a way that will strengthen its relationship with key stakeholders:


1.  If you haven’t already, appoint a COVID-19 task force.  This should include the CEO, human resources, legal, customer service and communications, and the leaders of major business lines. The task force should be coordinating the company’s crisis response, such as business continuity planning, while also ensuring the consistency and content of its messaging as it updates stakeholder groups on its response.


2.  Scenario planning is more critical than ever.  The crisis is unfolding, so there’s no certainty about when things might return to “normal.” It’s important to anticipate potential scenarios and plan the specific actions your company might take—and how you will communicate them. Communications are critical because credibility and confidence in your leadership are on the line. Potential scenarios include whether the emergency response will have to last for the short- (two weeks to one month) or long-term (three to six months, all of 2020, possibly beyond) and what your company is prepared to do to meet the demands of the moment.


3.  Plan for “normal.” There’s a sense that companies are shutting down in a hurry as they react to the changing situation and greater enforcement of health guidelines. How you shut down will determine the ease with which you can turn things back on as the situation improves. For example, if you’re having to furlough employees, are you staying in contact with them so they are available—and inclined—to be recalled at the appropriate time? Also, families have lost a lot of their support network as schools have closed. Will they be ready to immediately return to an office environment, or will a transition period be necessary? Find out by regularly communicating with your employees about this pandemic and, at the right time, consider surveying them about its impact on their lives so you can plan accordingly.


4.  Be visible.  A crisis is a test of leadership and it will be critical for the success of your organization that its leaders remain visible and actively communicate (via emails, texts, messaging apps like Slack and Google Hangouts) reliable information and updates so all stakeholders know where things stand. Companies that handle crises effectively tend to burnish their reputations because of the leadership they’ve demonstrated.


With all the heightened attention, it can be challenging to keep perspective when navigating a crisis. CSI has a team of experienced crisis communication counselors who can help your organization sort through the priorities and stay connected with your constituencies throughout this critical time.

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