Resources and Best Practices for PR & Communications During the COVID-19 Crisis

These are uncertain times — for individuals, for organizations, and especially for businesses that have been hit hard by the evolving COVID-19 crisis. 

That’s why we’re sharing the same communications advice we’ve given our clients, free for anyone to use and share.  

At this point, we don’t know what will happen. No one can predict the future. We don’t know the timeline for this pandemic, and things are changing on a weekly, daily, hourly basis. 

This is our moment to make a difference and help a lot of people. We need to protect our businesses, our employees, our customers and the safety of the public. 

Nothing else matters more than this. 

Marketing doesn’t matter. PR in its traditional role doesn’t matter. Spin doesn’t matter. Right now, the only thing that matters is that we communicate with the right information at the right time. Our only goal is to educate, help where we can, lessen anxiety and possibly even save lives. Period.

With that in mind, we are doing what we can to help our clients as situations shift, our economy adjusts and day-to-day life continues to be redefined. 

We’d like to extend that help to whoever we can.

These are our recommendations to help organizations manage their communications during this unprecedented time.

Live Your Organization’s Values

Know what your business stands for and believes in. Then truly live it — even when it’s difficult. 

At the heart of every business is a similar promise: one to customers and employees. Right now, it’s crucial to deliver on that promise, even if it means making sacrifices.

Our actions have more impact than ever. What we do — and how we communicate it — will make a major difference in customers’ and employees’ lives. This could mean anything from shifting the way you work to canceling major events to temporarily closing down storefronts. Decisions like these will be hard. They may cause a fall in profits. But you owe it to the people who support your business — and to society.

Be Transparent with All Communications 

Transparency is key in establishing and maintaining trust in a brand — and this couldn’t ring more true in times of crisis. It’s critical for brands at this time to communicate facts and news in a timely manner. Being transparent with this information helps to establish credibility with media, customers and the general public. 

And during this public-health emergency, transparency is even more critical. Open, honest communication could potentially save businesses and keep people safe and healthy.

Don’t Be the Expert on COVID-19

As stated above, there’s an information overload between traditional and nontraditional news coverage, social media content and business communications — everything from email to snail mail. We’re seeing a lot of advice, content and suggestions for staying safe being offered from a variety of sources. 

It’s critical for brands to strictly adhere to recommendations and prevention tactics from the two most-trusted sources for this pandemic: the WHO and CDC

Don’t make up your own recommendations. Don’t pull from unreliable sources. Simply, clearly and consistently direct your customers and followers to turn to WHO and the CDC for reliable public-health information and to turn to local public health officials for direction on community and city ordinances. 

The CDC has created an accessible resource guide in regards to COVID-19, including recommendations on how to protect yourself, what to do if you think you’re sick, resources for travel, businesses, as well as community and faith organizations. It is also offering up-to-date information on COVID-19 cases in the United States. 

WHO has published information on research and development, situation updates, country and technical guidance, details on protecting yourself, myth-busting stats as well as resources for training and e-learning.

Utilize Best Practices and Resources from Trusted Sources

You don’t have to be the expert on everything. This is more than just crisis communications. There are many helpful and free resources out there to help guide communications efforts during this uncertain time, from standard best practices in crisis communications to tailored content, webinars and thought-leadership pieces created specifically to pertain to communications during the coronavirus pandemic. 

For companies seeking support and guidance on both internal and external communications during this time, we’ve compiled a list of helpful resources to help drive transparent and effective communications efforts: 

  • The Harvard Business Review published a step-by-step process for communicating through the pandemic, including creating a communications team, communicating with employees as well as customers, managing investor relations and improving relations with local communities. 
  • O’Dwyer additionally published an article outlining coronavirus communications best practices and preparedness, including determining operational protocols in a timely manner, communicating internally with clear details and facts, developing a crisis communications scenario, prepping for inquiries from media and, of course, staying calm and up to date on facts. 
  • The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) has this week provided its followers with a host of content - from articles, webinars and a helpful infographic on how to manage the information overload by focusing on the facts, checking reliable sources a few times per day, and relying on THE two most-trusted sources of health-related information: the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC). More on that below.
  • In following recommendations to follow social distancing, many marketers, communicators and community organizers are also responsible for communications in response to event cancellations and postponements. PR News has published a helpful guide to event-cancellation communications.

Be Human First

As the Harvard Business School recently reported, the coronavirus is already rewriting the future of business. No one knows what the world will look like post-crisis. 

But one thing is certain — as business owners, marketers or public relations specialists, we will have to look at ourselves in the mirror and wonder if we took the right actions during this time. 

Right now, that means making decisions that prioritize the health and well-being of others.

There is no clear way forward, but there is a right way forward. By being transparent, following best practices and, most importantly, making decisions with our hearts and motivations in the right place, businesses can put public health over profits, and maintain the trust and credibility of customers.

We must all do our best to help each other — our businesses, our employees, our customers and our local communities — through these times. In doing so, how we communicate will be key.

Written by Brian Easter on March 20, 2020


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