Welcome to Media Monday. Today I’m talking about how you should handle your PR and communications during a global crisis. With the current coronavirus pandemic, PR and communications should be considered to make sure businesses are sharing the right messages in the right way to the right people.
The importance of PR and communications during a global crisis, such as coronavirus
Whether it’s natural disasters, terrorist attacks, or – as we’re facing today – a pandemic, there are times where your business may be tested by global incidents and events.
As coronavirus has shown, businesses can be affected in a number of ways, so it’s not unusual to see brands looking to communicate with customers, whether it’s to keep them informed, address any concerns or offer messages of support.
However, it’s easy to get this wrong, particularly under the delicate circumstances we face today. In the last few weeks, there have been some great examples of organisations getting their comms right, but just as many who are missing the mark.
So what should businesses be thinking about in terms of PR and communications during a global crisis?
Questions to ask before you share news or content based around a global crisis like coronavirus Covid-19
Do you need to communicate?
Don't just join the conversation and tap into breaking news for the sake of it. Make sure your PR, communications and content are relevant and necessary. Be careful not to share anything that can't be backed up by facts, lead to fake news, or cause unnecessary panic.
Are you sharing messages in the right way?
Think about who you need to communicate to (employees, customers, the public) and the best channels to reach these audiences. Make sure you get the timing right too - don't leave people second guessing what's happening as this can cause more confusion and rumours to start.
Is your tone and sentiment right?
Make sure you check the tone and sentiment of any content or communications. Be sensitive to the current situation. Check any scheduled social media posts to make sure they're still OK to share.
Are you putting people first?
Whether you have to break bad news, share safety messages or reassure your audience, make sure people are at the heart of your comms. Communicate to key people first before they hear news or updates from other sources.
Have you got any good news?
Rather than add to the panic in the media and online, look at what actions you can take as a business to help others and share some positivity in these uncertain times.
Coronavirus global crisis PR and comms in detail
Firstly, the most important thing is to think about whether you even need to communicate. All too often, brands wade into a trending conversation – possibly with the best intentions – only to find they’re accused of being opportunistic.
This is not a good look, so think carefully about the relevance of your comms and how it might be interpreted. With 24/7 rolling news and the public constantly looking for new information relating to topics like coronavirus, journalists will be keen to find businesses and individuals to comment in the media – but you don’t want to put out the wrong type of message about your business.
And this is as important for individuals as it is for brands. People are quick to share their theories and opinions on social media, but if these are unnecessary or not backed up by facts, it could reflect badly on you and your wider business.
Secondly, it’s worth thinking about things you were already planning to say. If you’ve got weeks of social media posts scheduled, check them over it to make sure they’re still relevant and aren’t going to upset anyone – and if they might be something that could be seen as insensitive in light of what’s happening in the news.
Whatever you have planned in your content, check the tone and sentiment. Businesses shouldn’t contribute to any upset or panic around a global crisis, so being aware of people’s concerns is a must – and this counts for what you don’t say as much as what you do.
If you do have to communicate bad news – such as redundancies or business closures – make sure you let those affected know first before they hear it elsewhere. For both internal and external messaging, keep people at the heart of your communications by being empathetic to their needs and clear about any support that may be available.
Thirdly, if your messaging is necessary and relevant – for example if it relates to health and safety plans, advice on remote working for employees, or how customers’ orders may be affected – think carefully about the channels you use.
Where is the best place to reach your audience? Is it email, social media, instant message, the media or a combination of these? Also consider your timing – leaving people waiting for an update can create more worry, and might even lead to rumours starting that you’ll have to deal with later.
Finally, don’t forget your good news. During difficult times, people need a break from the bad news, whether its acts of kindness, communities working together or positive human interest stories. So rather than add to the uncertainty and panic in the media and online, look at what actions you can take as a business to help others and share a bit of positivity during uncertain times.
About PR Unlocked
PR Unlocked is created by Claire Gamble, managing director of Unhooked Communications, a PR agency that works with national and international businesses. The online training course and supporting content is designed to help small businesses, startups and marketers understand how PR can help their business, as well as teach them how to do their own PR. For any businesses looking for a creative and results-driven PR agency to work as their PR partner, head to the Unhooked Communications website or email firstname.lastname@example.org.