With COVID-19 continuing its rapid spread around the globe, the vast impact of the coronavirus outbreak affects all of us.
Whether that means we can’t go out to eat at our favorite restaurants, watch sports, meet up with our friends for a drink, get our swole on at the gym or do any of the nonessential activities we may have taken for granted before the crisis, the virus is now forcing us to rethink our lives as we stay at home and socially distance from others.
And that impact obviously extends well beyond our personal lives into the world of business, with the global economy taking a hit as authorities restrict large gatherings in an attempt to prevent the virus’ spread. Restaurants, bars, movie theaters, concert venues, offices and other public places are closing, and seemingly every public event for the foreseeable future is being postponed or canceled. Obviously, this means that countless businesses around the world are all facing some level of crisis — or at least difficult communications.
With the months ahead expected to be quite volatile and unpredictable, the ability to effectively communicate with the people that matter will take on increased importance. Whether that means crisis communications or just changed communications, it’s important to understand what the media expects from your company.
Poor Public Relations Don’t Help Anyone
Crisis or no, one recent example of bad PR highlights the importance of understanding and striving to meet the media’s expectations — which is key in meeting your own communication goals. Consider Lucky’s Market as an example. In January, news broke that the natural-grocery chain planned to close 20 stores in Florida, and perhaps 32 of 39 stores nationwide.
However, publications both in Florida and Colorado were unable to successfully reach the Lucky’s PR team for comment. And BizWest surmised publications across the country also struggled to determine the fate of Lucky’s stores in their markets because no one from the company would comment on the situation.
As Christopher Wood, BizWest’s editor and publisher, rightfully points out, “the company violated a core tenet of crisis communications: Get the facts out, as quickly and as accurately as possible.” Without that communication, loyal customers across the country were left to scour social media and reach out to news organizations in an attempt to determine what was happening with their grocery store of choice.
At the end of the day, it’s the media’s responsibility to seek out and report the news — good or bad. And as uncomfortable as it might be for your organization, news will be broken and stories will be told. When journalists are forced to dig and scratch for information that enables them to break news and tell stories, that does not reflect well on the organizations that struggle to communicate. Just ask Lucky’s.
In the end, if you want an ally to help tell your good news, you need to be responsive and professional when bad news breaks.
In crisis situations, sticking your head in the proverbial sand will not make reporters stop asking questions nor will the crisis just go away. A crisis is the time to provide timely and accurate information to the public, track and engage on social media and safeguard your organization’s reputation by building beneficial relationships with members of the media.
No one can predict when a crisis will arise, but we can all prepare for when that day comes. As John F. Kennedy declared during the 1962 State of the Union address, “the time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining.” Why wait until an issue arises to fix it?
Here are a few tips for your company to remain cozy and dry under that roof, avoiding a PR nightmare that results in lost revenue, customers and respect.
Crisis Communications Considerations
Don’t Lose Sight of the Big Picture
During crises, businesses often lose sight of the overall situation because they feel the need to “deal with a crisis.” Rather than pulling away from your customers and your community, calmly assess the situation and address your customers and stakeholders, providing them with the information they need in a proactive manner. Keeping your company’s goals in focus will allow you to help guide conversations surrounding timely, consistent and concise communications and assist with the prioritization of next steps in an authentic and genuine manner.
Communicate Early and Often
From employees and board members to customers, communities and a broad range of other stakeholders, communication is key to let internal and external audiences know what is happening and to inform them that you’re on top of the situation. Get your message out as quickly as possible, and consistently communicate your messages about the situation to keep everyone in the loop. By owning your bad news and letting stakeholders know as quickly as possible, you become more credible. Lies and misinformation won’t do anyone any favors when dealing with a crisis.
We all have that friend who calls when they need help moving or would like to borrow your car, but they always seem too busy when it’s time for you to move a few boxes or when you need a ride from the airport. Don’t be that friend with the media.
Before you find yourself in a crisis situation, consider building a friendly relationship with members of the media and other audiences. At the end of the day, people trust other people, not companies. Make sure you’re building a healthy relationship with reporters, not one built on always asking for coverage but never offering anything substantial in return. That means being a resource, even if the story isn’t actually about your company or even a direct, immediate benefit.
If you’re a cybersecurity company, that means being available to discuss with a reporter the technical issues around a recent incident so she understands the story better. Even if you don’t get quoted, the reporter will remember your favor and likely call on you again, and you’ll become a trusted source that does get mentioned. The reporter knows who you are, what you do and that you’re an expert in the space. When it comes time to announce your newest platform feature, you’re more likely to get a reception for your story.
Former President Kennedy is absolutely correct. You shouldn’t wait for a big storm to try and patch things up in the pouring rain. Don’t be like Lucky’s and hope the storm simply passes. Instead, work to keep your eye on the prize, effectively communicate early and often and build beneficial relationships with various audiences when the sun is shining to remain comfortable and dry during a stormy crisis communications situation.