PR Niblets

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The Right Communication in a Time of COVID-19

Voxia Communication, a Switzerland-based firm and our partner in the PR World Alliance, offers practical wisdom for companies and individuals to heed as the world navigates the coronavirus pandemic. Originally posted in French on its website on March 24. See below for some actionable advice, as well as a reminder that the pandemic will end.

Covid-19 - comment bien communiquer?

By Guillaume Coet, PR consultant Geneva, and Laurent Ashenden, founding partner 

The COVID-19 or coronavirus pandemic has an impact on all aspects of private and societal life. This event for which no one was really prepared illustrates the famous "black swan theory," well known to financiers. We look back at the essential measures in times of crisis, the lessons that can be learned from them and propose a critical outline of some actions already taken.

Offer a rapid and coordinated response

Ideally, your company should list and anticipate all the crisis scenarios it could face. This preparation includes a prior distribution of responsibilities, the development of key messages internally and externally, and the drafting of documents that can be easily adapted to each situation. All these arrangements will allow you to offer a rapid and coordinated response from the very beginning of the crisis that affects you.

In the case of COVID-19, communication is key. There are several main objectives. First, it is a matter of informing the public and fighting against misinformation, particularly by basing your response on the recommendations of experts in the medical field. Whether internally or externally, transmit the measures to be respected in order to curb the pandemic: frequent hand washing, social distancing or the implementation of teleworking when possible.

Secondly, reassure your employees, partners and customers in a time of sanitary and economic uncertainty. Keep in mind the human drama that is currently happening by conveying benevolent messages and showing understanding towards the various stakeholders. Nevertheless, remain transparent, as any deliberate omissions on your part can cause the crisis to worsen.

Ensure continuity

Beyond the tone to be set for your messages, it is essential to ensure the continuity of your activities throughout the crisis. Information must be kept up to date in order to deploy relevant communications across all channels. Community engagement is also of critical importance: it will allow you to obtain essential feedback to address the crisis as effectively as possible and strengthen unity within your structure. It will always be easier to convince employees who feel listened to and understood, even when difficult measures need to be taken.

Every crisis is also synonymous with opportunities. Several companies have been able to play their cards right by offering their support in the fight against the pandemic: perfumer Firmenich promised 20 tons of hydroalcoholic solutions to the HUG (Geneva University Hospitals), while Pernod Ricard donated 70,000 liters of alcohol to make hand sanitizer. Several luxury groups such as LVMH, Coty, Moncler, Prada, Armani and Versace are also making their financial and logistical resources available to participate in the "war effort" against the virus. While these actions undoubtedly have positive effects on the image of these companies, they can also be perceived as a form of reputation-washing or a diversion of philanthropy for mercantile purposes. It is therefore very important to anticipate all the repercussions, both positive and negative, that may result from each action.

On a more local scale, the initiative of a pizzaiolo who delivered 500 pizzas to the CHUV caretakers demonstrates that even a small company with few resources can take symbolic actions in times of crisis. (Update 03.26.2020: due to health and safety concerns, the delivery finally had to be cancelled. Nevertheless, the importance of the message remains.)
Poor communication management can, on the other hand, create irreparable damage to your image even in the long term. It is therefore necessary to be wary of hasty announcements and to always explain the reasons behind your choices. While the Spanish bank Santander has pledged to avoid any layoffs or reduction of working time, Virgin Atlantic has announced that it will put 8,500 employees on unpaid leave for at least 8 weeks. The measure may be unavoidable for the company to survive, but it remains draconian and requires particularly thoughtful communication.

Political communication also provides an opportunity to learn lessons from the COVID-19 crisis. The drastic changes of course by political leaders create a climate of uncertainty and reinforce the mistrust of the population. The initial positions taken by Donald Trump or Boris Johnson, which minimized the impact of the virus, are likely to be detrimental in the long term and may be at the origin of a preventable mortality wave. These examples highlight the importance of maintaining a clear and consistent line of communication. Policy changes can of course occur, but sudden reversals must be avoided at all costs.

Anticipate the return to normal life

All crises come to an end, and although uncertainties remain about the course of the pandemic, the coronavirus will be no exception. It is therefore necessary to plan follow-up campaigns and a proactive communication plan. The economic impact that accompanies the health shock will create demand from companies that will have to adapt to the situation and resume their activities under the best possible conditions. Communication is a privileged area to improve this economic recovery.

The crisis will also create new trends. While some sectors are suffering heavily, others are experiencing exponential growth with demand for online entertainment and home delivery services constantly increasing. There are opportunities to be seized in these areas.
Models that were introduced during the crisis will also be gradually integrated into everyday life. One example is teleworking, which has become an obligation today, but which will also be better accepted in the working world of tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Communicating in a Time of Coronavirus

Denterlein, a Boston-based communications firm and our partner in the PR World Alliance, has outlined some precautions that communications professionals can take in light of the current Coronavirus pandemic. They posted their first set of guidelines on March 2, and on March 9 followed up with a Part 2. So while you're here, take a quick break to Purell your hands, read their insightful posts, and then Purell again.

Communicating in a time of Coronavirus (Covid-19): Part 2

By Denterlein Team

As the facts and situation around Covid-19 (Coronavirus) continue to evolve, with the number of new cases growing daily, most of our clients have already communicated at least once to employees, customers and partners. However, communications needs are ongoing and diverse.
Some additional thoughts to build on our previous post (also full of useful tips) on the topic of communicating in a time of Coronavirus:
Update policies regularly and communicate accordingly. As new facts become available, companies are considering a broader array of policy changes designed to keep employees and customers healthy, as well as limit business interruption risk. These policies (and your process for making them) should be communicated in a consistent, timely manner. Some areas where we have seen clients provide updates:
  • Modifications to travel policies
  • Changes to meeting and events policies; this includes policies for ordering and sharing food
  • Information about how you will manage upcoming major events (for example, letting event attendees know that if cancellation happens or a switch to a webinar format occurs, you will communicate it 48-hours in advance and provide refunds)
  • Updates to sick leave policy (Trader Joe’s, for example, recently extended sick leave benefits to all associates)
  • Updates to policies around who should work from home; we are increasingly seeing that not only are companies asking sick employees to stay at home, they are requesting that asymptomatic individuals who may have had contact with a presumptive case (one where initial test results are positive, awaiting confirmation by the CDC) of Covid-19 stay home
Be consistent in information sharing: Whenever possible, information should be shared from a single source and be consistent, in both content and tone. Keep a log of the questions you are getting asked, develop a single company response and share it in a place where all manager, customer-facing employees or others likely to get that question can access it. Update answers regularly (and date/time stamp them) so that information is timely, consistent and, most importantly, accurate when shared.

Remind people what you can’t talk about: Sharing private health information or information about the travel patterns of your employees violates a number of federal regulations (and likely your internal privacy policies). You can let employees know if they may have been exposed in some way to a presumptive case of Covid-19 and provide context around that case without sharing personal health information of an employee. And be sure that both your internal and external audiences know that all official information about the virus and its spread is coming from the Department of Public Health (or other relevant agency).
Plan for media attention: If you are a consumer facing company and an experience an interruption to your business because of sick employees or a need to sanitize a facility due to potential exposure, you will receive media interest. If you are an event company and media believe you may be seeing a drop off in business, you will receive media interest. If you are an essential retail provider (think grocer, pharmacy, gas station), that must take remain operating even if as Coronavirus becomes more widespread, you will receive media interest.
Consider how you will:
  • Communicate with the media (statement, spokesperson or defer to public health officials)
  • What you will say directly to your employees and customers (particularly if there is confusion based on media reports)
  • How you will provide updates when media interest has passed, but your situation has changed
  • Whether and when you will use your social channels to share information directly to consumers if there is media misinformation
Share information about your contingency planning. Though many companies typically plan for crisis behind closed doors, Covid-19 is the topic on everyone’s mind. While you need not share all of the details of your planning process and possible steps, it will help employees and customers/business partners to know that you are:
  • Carefully monitoring CDC, state Department of Public Health, WHO and other trusted sources for information
  • Consulting with your own experts if necessary
  • Assuring that IT systems and other technologies are in place to support a robust process of tele-meeting with clients, working from home and continuing operations
  • Considering alternative business models to allow work to continue uninterrupted while maintaining the health of your team members
Make sure employees feel confident making personal health decisions: While most reports indicate that Covid-19 does not create a major risk for healthy individuals, you are likely not aware of all of the details of a colleague’s health risks or personal life. Perhaps a colleague has an immune-disorder they have not disclosed, shares a home with an elderly relative or is the sole caretaker for an individual at risk. Let employees know that regardless of corporate policies around meetings, travel or sick time, you want them to raise any concerns they have and can work through them on an one-on-one basis.
Create communications channels: This piece of advice from our first post bears repeating. As evidenced around the world, this is a fast-moving situation and changes in information can happen in a matter of hours. Establish communications channels for all of your important audiences, make sure those audiences know that these are the preferred methods for sharing information and keep them up to date. We like having separate channels for employee and customer information, since their needs and concerns are likely to be different. We’re also encouraging clients to monitor social media channels even more closely than normal to assure that rumor doesn’t take over and that facts remain primary.
Finally, be aware that this is not only the biggest news story in the world, it is likely a source of serious and legitimate concern among the audiences most important to your organization. Be relentless in your focus on communicating in a way that is both factual and compassionate.