The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed our lives, both personally and professionally. This is a strange time and new terrain for organizations of all sizes and missions. Regardless of what type of organization you work for, during times of crisis and uncertainty, crisis communications preparation is paramount. Here are some questions you can ask to gauge how ready you are:
1. What is your plan?
If you don’t have a crisis plan, now is a good time to establish the basics. Crisis situations require clear, distinct responsibilities and action items. Identify core team members — common crisis teams include the CEO or executive director, communications staff, and legal counsel — and determine how you will virtually convene. Decide key roles: Who will reach out to each key stakeholder group, what is your internal review process, and who will make final decisions? Develop guidelines for the team to use in the heat of the moment — from establishing notification systems to quickly reach senior leaders, staff, board members and other stakeholders, to suspending any pre-scheduled social media posts and monitoring news coverage.
2. What steps are you taking to protect your employees? Are you prepared to respond if a senior leader or employee receives a positive diagnosis? How does this crisis affect your ability to carry out your mission?
Look at your crisis plan through the lens of the pandemic. Have statements prepared to address questions about your policies and the proactive actions you are taking to ensure continuity, safety, and security. View this as an opportunity to determine what parts of your crisis communications plan need work. Were you able to quickly notify employees and stakeholders about decisions? Where were there gaps?
3. What do your employees need to know and when?
Communicate promptly, clearly and transparently to employees. Provide consistent, accurate updates through your internal communications channels to reassure employees and inform them about the actions your organization is taking. When talking to employees about major decisions related to the crisis, it’s beneficial to also communicate how leadership arrived at that decision. Video is a great tool to use for internal communications to engage audiences. Just remember any communication could become public so be mindful of your message.
4. How can you communicate about your important work, while also being sensitive to what is happening in the rest of the world?
Read the room and stay informed. Keep your finger on the pulse of the conversation in your field—use real-time monitoring of digital channels, news, and discussion boards. You don’t want to appear tone deaf or insensitive to what is happening in the world. If a communication feels out of sync or inappropriate, it probably is. Go with your gut. Once the crisis is over, there will be opportunities to re-promote important things your organization is doing now. Plan with the rebound in mind.
5. How can you prepare for what happens next?
No matter what challenges arise in the coming weeks, communicate calmly, clearly, quickly, and honestly to both internal and external audiences. Lead with and focus on the facts: Let employees and stakeholders know what you do and don’t know. Be transparent and build trust. If you don’t have answers or are getting questions about decisions that have not been made yet, such as if you are canceling an event scheduled for July, set a date for when you will communicate the decision. “We will let you know if this event is canceled by May 15.”
And remember: This crisis will end eventually, and we will emerge having learned a lot about our crisis communications preparedness – and ourselves. We may even be better prepared next time.
Find this helpful? Here are some free resources from The Hatcher Group to help your organization in this challenging time.