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Crisis Communications Best Practices During COVID-19

March 17, 2020 — The outbreak of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is having a profound effect on businesses. Regardless of industry, all organizations must communicate with their internal and external audiences. Here are some crisis communications best practices.

Proactive Crisis Communications Checklist

Whether or not your organization has been affected on a primary/direct basis, now is the time to prepare your communications. Consider following these steps, at a minimum:

  • Review and update your internal and external communications plans and policies.
  • Draft a media statement.
  • Decide who your company’s spokesperson will be, should the need arise.
  • Have two written pieces of communication ready to go (if not already sent out) — An email to customers (explaining protocol you have in place and actions you are taking) and an email for internal use that will be sent to employees and staff (explaining your company’s plan).
Reactionary Crisis Communications Checklist

If you have been directly impacted (an employee has been confirmed to have coronavirus; your city has confirmed cases of the virus; you must close your business/destination as a result of the outbreak), you absolutely must communicate swiftly (and regularly) to your audiences.

Now is not the time for company executives to disappear. It is necessary to develop a quick and prompt response to educate, inform and get ahead of the news as much as possible. Consider the following steps:

Internal Communications:

  • Address the situation immediately and intentionally. Understand and value the concerns of partners and appropriate regulators. Get your leadership team on the same page.
  • Quickly designate a department that will field internal calls and emails.
  • Whether your staff is working in the office or at home, make sure every employee has read the CDC guidance on personal hygiene and has watched the CDC’s video on hand washing.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. Don’t surprise your already stressed team. Make a plan to send push communications to your staff and internal stakeholders as soon as any new developments arise. Build confidence in your team that you are aware of the situation and will tell them exactly what is going on, as quickly as possible.

External Communications:

  • Address the situation immediately.
  • Designate a company spokesperson. In a crisis, there is no room for inaccurate information. Tighten control over who is authorized to speak to the media.
  • If you do not have a department (or agency) that handles marketing communications, develop a task force or special committee/team.
  • Make a list of who will be affected (vendors, partners, customers, etc.) and determine the best way to reach them. Keeping your clients informed is crucial. If you need to change the way you service them, tell them why. They will understand and appreciate any reasonable change in procedure.
  • Draft a media statement and change it daily or as new details develop.
  • If you do receive media inquiries, pause and make sure you are ready to answer. Anticipate tough questions and prepare adequately. Write a list of speaking points and remember to avoid speculation and stick to the facts. Practice your responses.
Crisis Communications Tips & Things to Consider Doing

AMF represents a variety of clients, across numerous industry segments. Here are some of the tactics we are currently deploying for them. We thought this list might be helpful to your planning, as well.

  • We are drafting media statements and responding to reporter inquiries on behalf of clients.
  • For clients who have been directly impacted, we are writing press releases detailing precautions and new protocol in place.
  • We have created short videos for social networks and other channels to communicate key messages.
  • We are writing speeches (and talking points) for mayors, city leaders and company spokespeople to address concerns and provide a current state of the situation.  
  • In some cases, we have stopped/paused digital advertising, promotions and media buys in affected destinations and are developing a strategy to serve them in a post-coronavirus market.
  • Our content and production teams are working with clients to develop microsites to house information specifically about COVID-19.
  • We have revised clients’ social media strategies, acknowledging that, like it or not, everything we do or promote for the foreseeable future will be viewed through the prism of COVID-19. Consider halting all nonessential marketing emails or social media – think about how your posts may appear in the middle of two others about coronavirus. If you can be part of the solution or have something of value to offer, do so. But, think carefully about your messaging. Try to be helpful and not insensitive/self-motivated.
Need More?

The above tips and examples can help you plan for and minimize the potential for misinformation and negative perceptions of your brand. In a time of uncertainty and change, remember to stay focused on the items you can control – the most important of those is communication.

Download an overview of the crisis communications services AMF can provide in light of the novel coronavirus outbreak.

If you find you have additional questions or need an outsourced group of experts, please contact us.