Public Health Impacted By Critical Communications

Many companies think a crisis will never happen to them. In reality, crisis situations affect businesses of all sizes and industries every day. The following best practices, however, will help outline and deploy an effective plan to avoid/minimize harm to people, property and reputations. It will even help organizations prepare for, and prevent, the spread of the coronavirus. So far, the misinformation and mismanagement of the pandemic have been negligent on many fronts. Vision is short-sighted and leadership is lacking. Messages are mixed at best, which is compromising public health, public trust, public policies and reputations. What can you do for your organization?

Crisis Aversion and Mitigation

Being proactive to prevent issues from gaining momentum is the first step of a crisis communications plan. Safeguarding human health is paramount. What keeps you up at night? What could possibly go wrong? What are the critical success factors for your business or organization? What do stakeholders and stockholders expect from your organization? This checklist can help us identify the downside issues within an organization, prioritize them and manage them for maximum impact.

For example, coronavirus is a pathway threat, which means that we must identify and manage known and potential pathways where the virus can spread to other people. Protecting customers and employees is vital. In fact, negligence could be criminal in a life-threatening event such as this potential pandemic. That’s another factor that businesses must account for when deciding when and how to reopen. Stakeholders and the public at large will want to know that you are doing everything possible to prevent new pathways, while containing known source points. Of course, citizens want to know about patient management and resource management, as well.

Crisis Plan

Failing to plan is planning to fail. The only way to make sure you’re fully prepared to deal with crisis situations is to spend the time before an issue arises to put a plan in place. A good crisis communications plan should:

1. Identify the core response team. This group is your first line of defense in crisis situations. At the very least, it should include someone from your PR team and a legal representative. It’s helpful to create an email alias with that group so you can contact everyone at once.

Make sure to designate someone in this group as the directly responsible individual (DRI), as well as an alternate in the event that that person is unable to help. That person will be responsible for evaluating incidents, convening the response team, and looping in other teams as needed.

2. Identify the executive response team. Once the core response team has evaluated an incident and determined its severity, it’s important that they know who on the leadership team should be alerted to the situation. The core group should stay the same from incident to incident, but you should also be prepared to bring in other executives as needed (for example, if it’s a customer-facing issue, make sure your head of customer support is looped in early).

3. Determine your workflow. Outline the specifics of how the team will mobilize during an incident. How will you communicate? How will people in the response teams be notified? How often will you report publicly? Where will you post those communications?

Make sure you consider multiple different scenarios when putting that workflow in place. It’s also helpful to list out all of the constituents that might be impacted, such as customers, employees, partners, or investors. You should also record the different channels you would use to reach these audiences – think in-product notifications, emails, social media posts, or a press release. This work can feel tedious, but it’s incredibly important to have this done well in advance so that you’re not scrambling to compile it later.

Every company is different, so the additional elements of your plans might differ slightly, but these core factors are essential to any effective plan. By outlining these ahead of time, you can be sure you’ll be prepared when a situation actually arises.

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Crisis Response

In today’s 24/7 news cycle, information can spread globally quickly, and it is more difficult to control the narrative once it’s public. It’s vital to quickly—and thoroughly—evaluate the situation to issue editorial materials and stabilize the issue.

Public statements and/or news releases should be issued as soon as the crisis has been identified and immediately after pertinent information has been verified. If possible, written content and verbal statements should outline potential solutions and next steps. Including this information demonstrates the company’s commitment to a quick resolution and aides message control.

If you catch wind a crisis is looming, consider preemptive efforts, such as initiating contact with relevant reporters or using company social channels to get your story out before news breaks. While that may seem like an unconventional approach, this type of transparency allows the company to control the narrative, so resulting news coverage is more likely to contain accurate, fairly balanced information.

Issue Monitoring

Advanced software platforms that monitor news and social media activity in real-time are essential for keeping a pulse on news coverage as well as public comments and sentiments. The real-time data provides a line of sight during a crisis, so trending headlines and social conversations are immediately identified and important decisions can be made quickly.

The cost for media monitoring and analytics software varies based on the depth of analysis and reporting capabilities of the program. Enterprise systems for large, publicly traded organizations can cost tens of thousands and require a long-term contract.

However, there are also media monitoring systems with free service options for smaller organizations. The gratis systems are useful for examining news mentions and social conversations, but keep in mind that they have limited reporting and analysis capabilities.

With consistent monitoring, you’re able to know what the public is saying and respond in real-time. Remember, one negative mention can quickly go viral. Implementing ongoing monitoring is a smart practice to help mitigate issues before they become crises.

Transparency

Among the most damaging impacts of a crisis is the loss of public trust and credibility. A crisis might be “handled” in the sense that your company is no longer in the headlines, but the aftereffect can cause long-term damage to a company’s reputation and market share.

Repairing brand reputation requires transparency. If a mistake was made, a mistake was made. This is an opportunity to take ownership, if necessary, and demonstrate a commitment to resolving the issue.

No matter the root cause of the crisis, authenticity in your communication is vital for winning back public trust. Don’t become silent or respond with “no comment.” Instead, create positive conversation and dialogue by sharing relevant information and updates as well as your intended next steps to repair the damage.

Crises are difficult to predict and can stem from a variety of sources – actions of unruly employees, evidence of racial insensitivity or sexual bias, fake news and everything in between. Should a crisis come your way remember, responding to the pressure is better than reacting to it.

Crisis Communication vs. Incident Response

If your company has a physical office, it’s likely that your security team already has an incident response plan in place. Incident response plans are tactical and deal with day-to-day issues that could arise at the office, such as problems with the building or an incident that impacts the physical safety of employees. These plans are often internal-facing and don’t provide any necessary steps for communicating externally other than looping in the PR team if a situation has the potential to go public.

Both crisis communication and incident response plans serve a unique need and are incredibly important for making sure your company is prepared if and when an issue does arise. Today, however, we’ll be focusing on strategies and best practices that are useful for developing a crisis communications plan.

Crisis Management

Once a situation escalates into a crisis, things start moving pretty fast. It’s incredibly easy to get caught up in the moment, and emotions will be running high as everyone mobilizes to try to solve the problem. Remind yourself that you’ve done the hard work ahead of time to get your crisis plan in place, so you should have everything you need to get through the incident. Keeping a steady head is essential in making clear decisions and moving quickly.

Communicate updates as quickly as possible. For product incidents, that means getting a status page up on your website about the situation. Just knowing that someone is on it is often enough to reduce some anxiety during a crisis.

Also, commit to how often you’ll report updates, such as every hour or by the end of the day. Making that commitment will keep things moving on your end and should also provide some comfort for the folks waiting for your response.

Positioning and Segmenting

Leaders lead, whether it’s a crisis or an opportunity. Stakeholders like to follow leaders, so keep doing your thing for the common and corporate good. It will pay dividends for many years in many ways. Be a defender and a problem-solver in ways that impact your stakeholders (including activities outside of your normal business). Redirect resources and capacity to help. Remember that critical actions are more important than words. Stakeholder segments include:

  • Board of Directors
  • Employees
  • Customers:
  • Allies
  • Suppliers
  • Distributors
  • Public Health Agencies
  • First Responders
  • Law Enforcement
  • Industry leaders

Messaging

  1. Be open and honest about impact. The widespread closures and heavy demand for services are having a deep impact on businesses both large and small. Be transparent with your customers about how this is impacting your business, and in turn impacting your customers. Many online providers recently sent out an email indicating service may slow over the coming weeks as demand for their products increases. They also included similar messaging at the top of their website homepage.
  2. Acknowledge uncertainty. Beyond email messages pertaining to the onset of COVID-19, you also need to pay heed to the unpredictability of this situation. Given the fluidity of the situation over the coming weeks, flexibility is important for businesses. Email can help you to establish consistent communication with your customers and announce changes in real-time.
  3. Express gratitude. Times are tough for everyone. When you’re planning your email communications, don’t forget to express gratitude towards your customers. Additionally, calling out wins is a welcome morale boost in tough situations.
  4. Offer an update on where you are with business.
  5. Let them know about the steps taken to ensure their safety during this time.
  6. Encourage them to continue business as appropriate and thank them for their support.
  7. Share helpful blog posts and videos.
  8. Ask and answer important/helpful questions.

Channels

  • News conference;
  • Email;
  • Video conferencing and video production;
  • Avoid postal service for now (unless vital);
  • Use social media (update profiles);
  • Post updates on your website;
  • Share/produce blogs/videos (yours and others); and
  • Make it easy to opt-out.

COVID-19 is an unprecedented crisis affecting the entire globe. And though every country is handling it differently. e are all in this together. And anything you can do to bolster that sense of solidarity with your customers is appreciated.

Email is still one of the best ways to reach your stakeholders. A study by Adobe found most Americans spend 209 minutes each workday using work email and 143 minutes using personal email (totaling almost six hours). Email is considerably better than social media when it comes to sweeping communication because it allows you to contact all your customers at once — instead of just the ones the algorithm selects. Send emails regularly to your customers about how your business is adapting in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak. Update your customers with any changes as they come up. Stay factual, helpful and positive on social media.

After a crisis settles down, it’s important to do a postmortem to evaluate how the team performed and determine whether there are any improvements you can make to the process. Survey stakeholders involved in the crisis, as well as holding a meeting to review the feedback and talk through relevant next steps. This should be part of every crisis situation.

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If you’re building your brand, your bottom line or a better world, Crossbow can help. We have influenced public opinion, public policy and business decisions around the world for more than 30 years. Crossbow Communications is one of the leading public relations and public affairs firms in the United States. We have offices in Denver, Colorado and Phoenix, Arizona. We serve the world.