Core Elements of Modern Crisis Communications Strategy
Updated: May 12
Stay ahead of COVID-19
A clear understanding of the situation, strong communications and stakeholder engagement is paramount in managing impact and coming through stronger.
While China seems to have dealt with the spread of the coronavirus, countries like Italy, Spain, the UK and the US have become the new hotspots of the epidemic. The number of those infected and the demand for indispensable medical equipment continues to rise.
Health systems around the world are in crisis, and when there is insufficient medical staff & equipment, people seek alternatives. Ventilators, which are crucial lifesaving tools when patient’s lungs fill with fluid, making it very difficult for the lungs to oxygenate the blood, are running out.(See pic - courtesy ISINNOVA)
The shortage has put manufacturers on a wartime footing. Engineers in Italy have found an innovative way to cope with this issue. They found a method to convert snorkelling masks into ventilation masks that hospitals desperately need.
With the corona outbreak, we are facing the largest global crisis since WW II. Nature is sending us a message with the pandemic and the ongoing climate crisis, according to the UN’s environment chief, Inger Andersen. Andersen said humanity was placing too many pressures on nature with damaging consequences, and warned that failing to take care of the planet meant not taking care of ourselves.
More than ever, we have to be innovative and creative to manage this situation in many sectors. Leaders of private or public organisations need to brace themselves for the scenarios that may play out in their own associations, due to the consequences of the spread of the virus.
The challenges for establishments in affected countries include infected staff, a drop in activity, disruption in global supply chains, decrease of travel, cancelled events and companies that have to close. Stakeholders need to know how organisations intend to navigate the crisis.
With the crisis in full progress, the spread of misinformation can lead to fear and distrust, unless businesses and associations communicate effectively and demonstrate their preparedness to deal with the situation.
The outbreak of the coronavirus has led to disinformation that obstructs efforts to contain the disease. We hear fake news that the Schengen Area has collapsed or that EU countries are fighting each other for decreasing supplies of medical equipment, etc.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said fake news is spreading faster than the virus and has named it an "infodemic of planetary proportions". The outbreak has also provoked social stigma and discriminatory behaviour against citizens of certain ethnic backgrounds as well as anyone perceived to have been in contact with the virus.
Governments and institutions need to constantly reinforce public trust and enhance their reputation via their communications on how they are successfully managing the rising complications of this global crisis.
There’s a lot to learn from crisis communication best practices, but there is also a lot that we can learn from seeing organisations doing it wrong. Analysing their mistakes can help us avoid making similar ones.
1. Develop a crisis communication plan
Every organisation needs a plan to identify who says what when bad news is there. A written plan will save you time and will reduce the stress of the management, and allow them to focus on dealing with the situation when it is there.
2. Create a crisis team
Identify a small team of people in your organisation as your crisis communication team. While every staff member is important, they can’t all be part of the crisis management team. Put together a group of responsible responders, each with their dedicated role.
3. Identify and train the spokesperson
Speak with one voice and be clear. Tell people as early as possible the good and the bad news. Identify one central spokesperson that has the authority and the knowledge to speak on behalf of your organisation. Show empathy and compassion.
4. Speak first
Communicating immediately and efficiently should be the priority of every organisation. Be sincere. Getting your messages out quickly, even if initially through a simple holding statement, will show that you are aware of the situation, are taking it seriously and are in control. This will build trust and will reduce rumours and misinformation.
5. Be transparent and honest
You need to be open and honest with the media and your stakeholders. Trying to mask the intensity of any crisis is a recipe for trouble. Media will find out if you are trying to hide something.
6. Use social media and Twitter in particular
Provide guidelines for how staff is expected to communicate on social media. Twitter is very important. Journalists are very active on social media and Twitter in particular. The key benefit of Twitter is how quickly one is able to disseminate information.
How different will the world be after the outbreak? This will depend on the duration of the epidemic, the number of deaths, and how each country and each organisation has managed the crisis.
The day after will be judged by the degree of trust between citizens and their governments, as well as between countries. Fear undermines our confidence in what we consider as established. Trust will help us to pave the way for change.
Overcoming our fears and gaining confidence in institutions and individuals will give us courage today and will be the basis of tomorrow's society, economy and politics.
With more than 25 years of experience in crisis communications, we can help recognise fake news and stop it from spreading. We can help you set-up a crisis management team and develop crisis communications.
During the crisis, StP Communications is offering free comms consultancy for organisations that cannot afford help or are snowed under fighting the corona virus: such as health care & social care organisations, hospitals, not-for-profits or charities that need support on risk & crisis communications, branding or lobbying. If you need help, please email to firstname.lastname@example.org