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Communicating during the coronavirus emergency

Ever since coronavirus was recognised as a global threat, the world can seem to talk of nothing else. The media has gone into overdrive, stock markets have plunged, businesses have stopped staff travel, and most major events and film releases have been postponed. Industries like travel and, in fact, all those with international operations have been impacted. Many global chains like Starbucks have shut outlets in China and airlines have suspended flights to the country, leaving passengers stranded. Most airports have installed screening for travellers to ensure the pandemic is contained.

As is common nowadays, social media has been the vehicle for not just news but also misinformation. Much of this is around businesses and brands. Suddenly, public relations (PR) professionals find themselves sending out healthcare and travel information on a priority.

It’s unlikely that they would have ever had to deal with a global health emergency of this scale. Re-examining crisis policy and protocols would ensure that they are engaging with their audiences in a relevant manner. Transparency, consistency, simplicity and accuracy are the needs of the hour, and don’t forget to attribute health and prevention information to credible sources.

More than ever, PR professionals need to be well informed – so, media monitoring must intensify, as must conversations with internal and external stakeholders. The best PR leaders will have in place a crisis plan that addresses what they will do if the disease reaches their business.

Watch out especially for fake news. Your monitoring mechanism should be able to pick it up quickly and you should nip it in the bud with a clear, quick response. Incidentally, this is also an opportunity for brands to step up their community efforts by helping health agencies battle the virus’ spread.

Employees are worried

Internal communication is as crucial as external. Emphasise safety, which means rethinking travel and possibly allowing people to work from home. That should put at rest most fears. Also keep employees informed about coronavirus-related developments and precautions across the organisation.

Keep talking

Everyone, from customers to the government, wants to know if you have a plan. So, keep them updated of how you’re heading off the crisis. Companies can set up electronic alerts for staff and customers, and use mass media when needed. Your website’s homepage is the right place for updates; make sure they’re prominent. You might even want to create a separate section on it for visitors to check regularly.

If you’re cancelling events or changing business plans, make it clear that it was done in stakeholders’ best interests. Project your concern for their health at all times and make sure you’re walking the talk on it.

Facts matter

Everyone can spot fake positivity from a mile away. So, convey how you’re on top of things but be factual at all times. If there’s reason to be worried, say so but add what’s being done about it. Failing to do so is a huge reputation risk that you simply shouldn’t take.

In the end, customers, employees, governments and the media are simply seeking the truth as well as reassurance. Keeping your messaging crisp, relevant and factual will yield results and, perhaps more importantly, respect.

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