As global trade is expected to fall by up to 32% this year, businesses big and small are already feeling the damaging effects of the COVID-19 virus.
Unless you’re the All England Lawn Tennis Association, which has taken out pandemic insurance on the Wimbledon tournament for the last 17 years and will receive a $141 million payout, it’s likely that you’ve done little to prepare for a virus outbreak.
Fortunately, you’re not alone.
It’s irking when traditional PR companies recommend devising a crisis management plan before a crisis. Many of these crises are unforeseeable, especially when they’re natural, so being told to plan for them feels redundant. Yet, it is worth noting that plenty has been written about how to prioritize different kinds of crises with different kinds of responses.
According to the Institute for PR, a crisis can be defined as a “significant threat to operations that can have negative consequences if not handled properly.” These threats, it goes on to say, can be divided into public safety, financial loss, and reputation.
For many entrepreneurs, startup founders, and small businesses owners, the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic are likely to be a combination of all three. It follows, therefore, that creating a robust crisis management strategy should be top priority for every business right now.
For this reason, we’ve decided to talk about what crisis management is, and how you apply it during a global pandemic.
Let’s get into it.
PR crisis management 101
When a crisis strikes, it’s not always possible to get out in front of it or sweep it under a rug. And if not carefully prepared or thought through, a company’s response to said crisis could actually make the problem worse.
What public relations crisis management (pr crisis management) does is take a multi-step approach to address the problem, the response, and the fallout. The Institute of PR refers to these phases as pre-crisis, crisis response, and post-crisis.
By establishing a plan on how your company will respond to likely threats, you put yourself in a better position to handle unlikely ones.
Build a strong crisis management team
One of the key challenges to crisis management is controlling the flow and accuracy of information. In moments of panic, it’s common that rumors get spread, some of which could be more damaging than the actual situation. One of the best ways to prevent this is by establishing a spokesperson.
In addition to the spokesperson, you’ll want to have a strong cross-departmental task force which includes the head of communications, the head of HR, the COO or CEO, and at least one representative from the group who will be most affected by the crisis management plan.
Consider including customer representatives, account managers, or board members just so that your bases are covered and your message has the right tone.
Communication is key
Now that you have a designated crisis management team, it’s vital that you have a clear, thoughtful, and sincere message to deliver to your employees and stakeholders. Both your internal and external communication plan should be consistent and on-brand.
One useful exercise is to draft a press release template for the different crises that you may encounter. The press releases should reflect your company policy and be consistent in tone. When a crisis does arise, identify all of the communication platforms that your company utilizes i.e. company wide emails, social media, town halls, press releases, press conferences, etc. and tailor your message to fit each medium. It’s important to note that any internal communications are liable to be leaked to the press so make sure that you are consistent in your messaging.
After you create your own internal and external press releases, identify the right people outside of your organization to carry your message to the right audience. Consider pitching journalists and publications with a more specific audience in addition to simply ones with the largest reach.
Crisis management in a pandemic
Let’s talk about the issue at hand – the coronavirus pandemic.
This global crisis first and foremost poses a threat to our public safety. Whatever team, messaging, or plan that you implement should be mindful that people’s lives are at stake.
Erring on the side of caution, your business should do a comprehensive risk analysis of the COVID-19 virus consequences.
Consider how you’re affected by the following:
- Logistics – An increasing number of countries around the world are attempting to contain the coronavirus by adopting strict travel restrictions and closing airports and borders from international travel. This will undoubtedly affect the scheduling of conferences, seminars, and events.
- Employee wellbeing -The spread of COVID-19 is preventing many people from working as they hope to recover in hospitals or at home. In addition to the illness itself, many employees are having to care for family members affected by the virus. Have a contingency ready should staff shortages arise.
- Working from home – In a matter of weeks, an entire workforce has had to adapt to working remotely. Organizations are increasingly reliant on video conferencing platforms and cloud based software to function, which raises other concerns about cyber security and data storage. Remain vigilant of your company’s online security while trying to minimize the inconvenience of non-office work environments.
- Maintaining brand engagement – Organizations are having to rethink how they offer value to their customers on a remote basis. Forecasting beyond the coronavirus pandemic, many organizations will be fundamentally different in how they interact with clients and customers. Cut through the noise in uncertain times with a well-crafted digital PR strategy.
While these times are uncertain, it’s important to be confident in your team’s ability to pull through.
Companies and organizations have always had to deal with natural and unnatural crises and it’s proven that a solid crisis management plan is the best defense regardless of the circumstances.
By confronting this pandemic head on, developing a cohesive message, and mobilizing a dynamic team, you protect your company from the COVID-19 fallout, as well as equipping yourself to deal with future crises.