If you are following a crisis comms plan and are trying to keep up with the rapidly evolving Covid-19 crisis, this article is for you.
It’s been great to see the PR community come together in the face of the Covid-19 crisis. Despite the challenges, I have found the discussions prolific and valuable.
As I have been self-isolating for the last 2 weeks now, I’ve had the chance to attend various webinars, read official recommendations, blogs and best practice advice. I have attached my top sources list at the bottom of this blog.
Most recommendations provided clear action points and objectives. Rigorous monitoring and evaluation were also said to take centre stage, but what does this actually mean for organisations? What exactly should you be monitoring?
I wanted to provide some clarification around this topic because the success or failure of a crisis comms strategy entirely depends on it.
If you are already following a crisis response plan, here are some recommendations to consider for environmental analysis and risk assessment purposes (following the AMEC framework structure):
- Analyse the volume of information in relation to the Coronavirus crisis (what are the topics discussed, who discusses them and through which channels of communication?)
- Assess the quality of information that is being communicated
- Assess the quality of relationships (interpersonal trust with key stakeholders and audiences)
- Map out communication channels (draw comparisons between official and unofficial channels)
- Identify potential internal bottlenecks
- Critically assess the sentiment of the collected data (any positive or negative stories? Incidents?)
- Provide recommendations to limit potential reputational damage, increase preparedness and work on improvement strategies
- Be accessible
- Communicate compassion
- Provide self-efficacy
Key audiences to track:
- Legal team
- Meetings/Phone calls
- Newsletters (internal communications for current staff and customers’ updates)
- Social media posts
Internal crisis comms strategies are often linked to micro risks that could impact the organisation and lead to macro risks if not managed well. Some important aspects to watch here are your staff’s wellbeing (and the diminished communication caused by remote working options or closed factories/shops), potential supplier failures, delayed billing/payments, increased cost of working, etc.
Key audiences to track:
- Public officials
- Press releases
- Media interviews/Press conferences
- Email updates
- Social media
To inform your decisions, ask yourself:
- What barriers the decision-makers face to meet their objectives (especially their communications objectives)?
- How are the decision-makers executing the crisis response strategy and promoting the organisation’s action points to prepare for the pandemic?
- If they do promote the organisation’s crisis response actions, do they understand the effectiveness of these efforts?
- Have you recorded any spikes of coverage? Where is it coming from?
- What messages are being communicated about the crisis? About you? About your competitors (or benchmark)?
- Do you see correlations between traditional and social media conversations?
- How is your website’s traffic doing?
- How many of your employees have attended your meetings & calls?
Example of Coronavirus key messages to track:
Planning – NHS – self-isolation – preparation – pubs, schools, gyms, theaters, gatherings – 111 Helpline – sanitiser/soap and water – save lives – Cobra committee – wash hands – contain; delay; mitigate – WFH – 20 seconds – action plan – solution – doctor – pharmacy – Happy Birthday – quarantine – lockdown – panic – World Health Organisation – stranded – sick;ill – stockpiling – shortage – disaster – hysteria – alarmist – overblown – overheated – sensational
- How have the media/social media users/employees/customers reacted about your activities?
- Have you managed to raise awareness about what you are trying to convey? Were your messages understood?
- How is the engagement with your staff? Your customers? Have you noticed any changes?
- Are discussions favourable? Critical?
- How many people have visited your Coronavirus-dedicated page on your website (which, should be your single source of truth)? How many journalists have downloaded your press statements?
The outcomes should inform about the success or failure of your crisis response.
- Have you managed to limit reputational damage?
- How many of your staff got ill?
- Has your market value improved? Dropped?
- Have you managed to retain staff? Have you lost any customers, employees?
- Has favourability improved or worsened?
- Has profitability increased or decreased?
- Have you generated public support?
1. Prepare for foreseeable reputational risks
Systematic risk assessment is crucial. Now is the time to minimise uncertainty by showing you are prepared.
- A holistic way to look at your crisis comms plan is to review the different areas impacting the organisation through a P.E.S.T.L.E. analysis: Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legal and Environmental.
- Preparation is key. A practical exercise would to be to incorporate your evaluation strategy into your scenario planning and crisis response plan.
Ask your decision-makers:
What does our worst-case scenario look like? What does our best-case scenario look like? What is the most probable scenario?
The idea is to review all the different scenarios and identify the features that would make a Coronavirus crisis well-managed. Once the scenarios are defined, the monitoring can start. Then, it is time to act and implement your plan of action.
Don’t forget to stress-test your plan of action and review your processes with your people’s fears.
- Balance proactive and reactive voice in your activities while monitoring the latest updates.
2. Build an evidence-based crisis response
Audiences worry about the reliability of Coronavirus information because of fake news and the difficulty to find trustworthy sources of information.
Your crisis response should be calm, proportional and evidence-based (Public Health England, the NHS and the World Health Organisation should be go-to sources).
3. Do not politicise the crisis
Elderman’s Special Report on trust and the Coronavirus has already drawn some interesting findings of audiences’ behaviour.
While a lot of the UK’s debates have been highly politicised in a post-Brexit environment, there are fears of politicisation of the crisis. Some organisations in the UK have greatly benefited from deciding where they stood in the Brexit debate, but I wouldn’t recommend making political statements in the current climate. Now is the time to highlight what the scientific community has to say.
4. Do not sensationalise or catastrophise the situation
The general public can catastrophise difficult situations. But a crisis is not a disaster. Leaders should humanise their response but avoid turning a crisis into a drama.
I hope this is hopeful.
Have I forgotten anything? How are you coping with your Covid-19 crisis response strategy? I would love to hear from you on my Twitter.
My top content sources for PR guidance:
- UK government’s reports for employees, employers and businesses guidance
- PRCA webinar with crisis comms experts Rod Cartwright and Matt Hodges-Long
- Edelman Trust Barometer 2020 Special Report: Trust and the Coronavirus
- PR Academy’s webinar with crisis comms teacher Chris Tucker
- The Institute of Public Relations’ report “How businesses are handling the crisis”
- Ella Minty’s blog on leadership
- #FuturePRoof’s survey
- Cision’s crisis comms checklist
This article originally appeared on Influence magazine.