Start Here Penticton: Communicating during a crisis

COVID-19: Communicating effectively in a crisis

Tag(s): Working Here

This article originally appeared in the Penticton Herald for the Penticton Chamber of Commerce, and was written by Allison Markin of All She Wrote. Find more related resources on the City's Business Emergency Preparedness page.

As a business owner, part of your continuity plan should include a crisis communications plan. We’re all in the midst of a macro—worldwide crisis right now, but as we’ve seen in recent days as directives and regulations change, many businesses have had “micro”, or local, crises.

Your staff may be suddenly working from home, your service level has changed, the way you sell goods and services has changes. How are you communicating with your stakeholders? Your first response will set the tone – will it be effective and empathetic, or reactionary and the wrong response?

In these uncertain days having a plan has become crucial. It doesn’t need to be long or convoluted, it simply needs to be ready.

The first step when a crisis occurs is gathering information from reputable sources. Avoid the “I heard that” rumour mill to avoid the spread of misinformation, and instead focus the facts: what, when, where, and how did it happen. Why did it happen? You may not yet know that answer.

Think about who may be affected, and then go to step two: identifying your audiences. Note that the media are not an audience, but a channel through which you can disseminate your information TO your audiences, which could include: staff, volunteers, a board of directors, members of your association, funders, clients or customers.

Step three is choosing your tools. Now that you know whom you need to reach, how will you do that? Identify a spokesperson – perhaps the business owner or a board member – and then list the tools you have that you can reasonably manage: a media list for sending advisories and news releases; an email list of clients, or general subscribers; social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram; your outgoing voicemail message, or even an old-fashioned phone tree.

Now it’s time for a key message (or a few, as you may need different messages for different audiences), that identifies the problem, proposes a solution, and offers a call to action. A key message and a crisis communications plan should also keep in mind these five c’s: confirmation, clarity, control, confidence, and concern.

We are in the thick of it. Your “short game” should focus on managing the immediate communications needs of your audiences, but your “long game” now needs to focus on reputation management so in weeks or months from now, your reputation will shine.

Lead with empathy, and let your values be your communications compass.