An opening acknowledgment: If you’re reading this blog post as it’s posted, we are in the midst of navigating a pandemic. Operations are changing, and methods to alleviate the risk of further spreading COVID-19 are evolving. We acknowledge that the recommendations included below may be challenging or even impossible to institute in current circumstances. But it is our hope that you can use them now, at least partially, and can apply them in the future should you ever need to use them again.
Hello there. It’s Taylor – and my heart has been heavy for the last week as I’ve followed the domino effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. I’ve labored over the challenges that many families face trying to find basic needs – from food to child care – while also worrying about the health and safety of my own grandparents, who fall in the high-risk age bracket.
While the ultimate effects of COVID-19 will not be known for months, if not years, there are immediate effects for every person. From minor inconveniences to massive life-altering changes, we’re all feeling the impact of the coronavirus.
That applies to businesses, too. Just this morning, I received email notifications from Sephora and Nordstrom announcing they’re halting brick-and-mortar operations for two weeks. These global brands have the capability to financially handle the losses that come from a shutdown of this scale – locally owned businesses may not.
This leaves most businesses grappling with what to do, and once a decision is made, how to communicate that decision to the public. There are universally applicable tactics we use in PR to help communicate changes in a crisis:
- Segment your audience.
It’s important to understand who is on your communication lists and how they are related to your business. Segmenting lists into basic categories like staff, customers, vendors, etc., can create clarity when you’re working on message development.
If your lists are not already segmented, trying to sift through them during a time of crisis is not optimal. In this case, think about the various platforms people use to connect with your business and work in broad strokes. For example, if your email list was built mostly by a loyalty reward program, then you can safely assume that most of your subscribers are customers. Assess to the best of your ability who might follow you across your social platforms, who visits your website and who reads your emails.
- Deliver succinct, clear messages.
During a crisis, your audiences will look to you for information about events, future business, operational changes and much more. It’s important to offer clear messages that answer their questions while simultaneously working to calm fears. Avoid alarmist language, and stick to simple answers.
If you were able to segment your audience, your messages should be tailored to reach a specific audience. Event registrants need different information than your staff. Investors and your board need more specific details than your Instagram followers. Your messages should meet the needs of your audience.
- Communicate when there is something new to share, not just to join the conversation.
During a large-scale crisis, people are searching for information regularly. It’s important for you to share relevant and timely information, but it is equally as important for you to leave space when you don’t have anything to add to the conversation. Rather than setting a schedule, create a communication plan that is event- and update-based. Then, tell your audience that is your plan. A simple statement can open your lines of communication for specific questions while letting audiences know you’ll be in touch if anything changes.