By Kristen Vandaveer Nicholson, APR, Vice President of Public Relations
Over the past three months, the global community has been greatly impacted and life as we know it has evolved rapidly in response to COVID-19. Every industry is being affected. All organizations, no matter how large or small, whether private, public or nonprofit, have been forced to pivot their communications efforts. In times of crises, public relations plays a key role.
In a study last month from the Institute for Public Relations and Peppercomm surveying hundreds of communications leaders and corporate executives, 83 percent of respondents are “moderately” or “extremely” concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on their companies, and nearly as many (81 percnet) said communications is “important” or “very important.”
In assessing your organization's communications plan, has your communications strategy changed since COVID-19? Is your message still relevant? Are you communicating to the right audiences? Are you implementing PR strategies or engaging a PR pro? Whether your organization needs crisis communications support or PR guidance to communicate effectively and break through the clutter, having an agile PR strategy is critical.
Here are a few considerations to weigh when crafting - or adapting - a strategic communications plan during times of crisis:
Be Adaptable - As storytellers and communicators, we must adapt the narrative in order to be relevant. The environment is changing rapidly. What an organization communicated last week may not be pertinent information in today’s environment. Review your communications plan often and adapt accordingly.
Be In Touch - How is your story relevant in today's 24-hour news cycle? Be in touch with what news organizations and audiences are discussing in the news and via social media. Yes, events are being canceled. Crowds are being limited to less than 10 people and non-essential businesses are closing. Craft a story that fits, then take advantage of owned, borrowed and earned media channels. People are in need of good stories to share, whether it be on social media or via traditional news outlets. Be a hero. Be a thought leader.
Set the Tone - Your communications tone matters. We're experiencing unprecedented uncertainty. Messaging should matter to the moment, but not appear too opportunistic, or worse, insensitive. Avoid fear-mongering at all costs. When it comes to messaging, your brand cannot afford to be tone-deaf.
Have a plan - Be strategic in your communications efforts. Crisis communications 101 begins with a plan. Think through all of your stakeholders and craft messaging appropriately. Don't forget internal audiences — your employees can be your biggest asset!
Seek a PRo - When in doubt, hire a PR firm. Your partners at Team SI and Mangan Holcomb Partners have seasoned, accredited PR practitioners who are trained in crisis communications. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when dealing with a crisis. But remember, you’re not in this alone.
It may seem natural to take a wait-and-see approach in a crisis, but it’s not always wise. At the same time, if you do have a plan, you can’t have a “set it and forget it” mentality. Remember, communication is everything. Plan the work and work the plan!