APPROACHES TO COMMUNICATIONS DURING COVID 19 CRISIS

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It was on March 11, 2020, that the World Health Organization (WHO), officially announced that the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) reached a pandemic status, which, means the “worldwide spread of a new disease.”  

Thanks to technology and the advent of hand-held devices, the thirsts for instant information and the means to slake these thirsts are within our reach. The flow of information about how to cope, conveying the correct facts about the spread and containment of COVID-19, response mechanisms and government initiatives – all these can be leveraged efficiently to drive a coordinated response.

It does not matter whether you are an educational institution, government department, a not-for-profit, private limited company, transportation provider, municipality, NGO, or business with LLP registration: it is crucial to be sure of the facts. And to proactively communicate with all stakeholders-using clear, compassionate, and understandable messages. This not only demonstrates leadership but reduces everyone’s stress levels and instils trust among key stakeholders.

In times of crisis, preparing operationally is the key. Parallelly, you must prepare to effectively communicate as well.

The approach below will help to successfully plan and communicate during the COVID 19 crisis and heightened public concern:

1. First, put together operating protocols

As they say, the journey of a 1000 miles starts with the 1st step – and here, the 1st step is to create a COVID 19 Crisis Team. This could contain senior personnel who have known authority, can delegate efficiently, can organize, and drive agendas. This team can meet and establish strategic imperatives, communication protocols, and a meeting schedule.

Priorities for different organizations may be different, depending on the nature of work – for some, the major part of the work may require them to focus on establishing business continuity and HR policies for coronavirus.

For some companies that serve the public, focus the focus should be public safety, policy, and focus, succinct communications. Organizationally, there are quite a few things to decide: newer service/product delivery structure, a safer workplace, WFH, reporting structures & regular feedback mechanisms, leveraging technology, monitoring health, and advisories on travel if at all etc…

2. Internal Communications – Clarity & Details

Mixed messaging is the first enemy in this scenario – ensure, especially in times of a public health crisis, clear communication and coordination. Mixed messaging is this confusion can be very problematic since it conveys the message that people providing inputs are not on the same page.

Good communications start with employees and internal stakeholders – for COVID-19 crisis as well, it is the same. Hence it means communicating continuously with progress partners and stakeholders (patients, staff, partners, customers, board of directors, investors, vendors, suppliers, local government, and others) about the pandemic—how it is impacting the organization, clients and customers.

Videos help – if the top leadership communicates with employees and stakeholders and reassures them by stating the steps the organization is taking – through an organic video. Can be a 60 second clip, describing the current state of affairs, steps being taken for prevention and deterrence, next steps and why.

This should be backed up by other written communications such as direct mail pieces, emails, texts, and social posts. Then, have a senior staff member communicate regularly and update people regularly, as things progress. If the leadership remains visible and communicates, it will build confidence.

Internal communications should be about concerns, commitments, updates protocols, policies, business continuity and updates from credible sources.

3. External Communications – have a Crisis Communications plan ready

Make no mistake – it is better to be prepared for a crisis than be caught unawares. Typically defined, a crisis is an event that causes a significant threat to operations or image and that can escalate if not handled properly.

Crises can cause severe reputational damage and deplete employee morale, so it is important to implement a plan ahead of time (or quickly if you do not have one in place). This includes preparing pre-approved messaging for specific situations that may arise.

Ultimately, the course of action for crisis planning depends on the type of business structure you work for. Brainstorming the top communications scenarios your organization should prepare for is a good place to start.

So, when a Corona case is identified in your organization – Protocols, WFH, logistics, departmental & company communications, client relations & technology support, social posts, communique, email templates – all these should be ready in advance, so can be operationalized instantly. Contingency plans should also be in place if anyone in senior management gets infected. 

Conclusion:

It is during times of crises, that the stakeholders will depend on your organization’s leadership to give credible answers, workable solutions, and definitive guidelines to follow. As regards a Crisis – before it strikes, prepare statements/communique for employees, clients, social media, and the various stakeholders including the media.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, it is of paramount importance to have sustained, open, transparent communication with your stakeholders and the community at large.