The coronavirus crisis is unique – a pandemic the likes of which none of us have experienced in our lifetimes. We have never before had a flu pandemic in such an inter-connected society. As a result, we have never seen such a dramatic impact upon our business and personal lives outside of wartime.
The virus is an unknown quantity, and while nobody has all of the answers, it is the responsibility of governments, businesses and project teams to communicate clearly what the crisis means for everyone affected and the impact it could have.
It goes without saying that the issue is highly sensitive. Whilst there is a critical need to communicate in times of crisis, communications need to be handled carefully. Providing accurate and appropriate information is crucial to building confidence amongst the public and wider stakeholders. Inadvertently spreading fake news, providing contradictory advice or messaging and saturating an already crowded market could damage collective efforts to curtail the disease.
At a time when we all want to do the right thing, and to make a positive contribution wherever possible, it is important to go back to basics and follow these three simple rules for strong crisis communications:
- Messaging – This needs to be calm, clear and concise. It is important to say enough to inform and reassure people. This will enable them to make informed and accurate choices and crucially to reduce any risks they may face. But at a time when people are bombarded with information, less is certainly more. Say what is pertinent and timely and stick to simple concise language.
Any information communicated should be relevant and add value to stakeholders. There is no point communicating merely for the sake of something to say. Furthermore, any scientific or medical advice provided should be linked to a factual and trusted source, ie the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidance or Gov.
- Timing – Consider the stakeholders that you are speaking to and take the time to work out what they need to hear. It is imperative not to rush out statements due to external pressure or to fill what feels like dead air.
The key questions are, do my stakeholders or the public need to know something now, and crucially do we have all the facts needed to communicate accurately. If not, it is better to stay quiet for a bit longer rather than saying something which turns out to be inaccurate.
- Humanity – Above all, an empathetic and human approach is needed.
Put yourselves in the shoes of your stakeholders and take into consideration their potential thoughts, fears and distractions. Ultimately, this is a public health emergency and we all have a duty of care to one another at this difficult time.
This means appreciating that no matter whether you are communicating with a customer, a member of the public or a stakeholder, we have to understand that these are unique times and we have to take their justified fears into account.
These rules apply regardless of whether we are communicating to people within our organisations or outside.
With pressures pulling companies in different directions, it is important to show leadership and a clear rationale behind what you’re saying and when and why you’re saying it. When the news cycle is changing by the hour, getting the right message across to ensure stakeholders are well-informed is more important than ever.