“When every light was out, you were there.”
Those were the anguished words from a storm-weary New Orleans resident to a cameraman from one of her local television stations following Hurricane Katrina.
Because they had a plan to remain on the air and provided critically needed information, WWL-TV cemented its place in the minds of viewers as an authoritative source for information. They remain among the most respected television stations in the country nearly 15 years after Hurricane Katrina.
While the COVID-19 outbreak is a very different disaster from Hurricane Katrina, and your business may be very different from a television station, now is the time for your organization or institution to be a light in the storm for those who rely upon you. It earns their trust and helps ensure your resiliency in the face of the daunting obstacles yet to come.
Now is the time to take actionable steps to ensure that credible, calm and relevant information is flowing from your organization to internal, external and stakeholder audiences.
Here’s a checklist we recommend going through with your organization’s leadership and communications professionals right now.
Are you prepared to proactively and transparently communicate relevant information about the impact of COVID-19 on your organization or business? While people are hungry for relevant information, they have no capacity for irrelevant information right now. For example, while customers may want to know that you’re being a responsible business owner by allowing your employees to work from home during this time of social distancing, they probably don’t need to know the intricate details of how you’re making that happen. They will want to know if these workflow changes might delay delivery of a good or service.
What unique information can you share now? Organizations are encountering unprecedented challenges as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. Eventualities many of us have never planned for are becoming the new normal. Transparently showing the innovations and advancements discovered by your team demonstrates nimbleness, thoughtfulness and tenacity, which builds equity with your audience.
Am I prepared to engage in conversations about COVID-19 into the foreseeable future? Even if the spread of the virus is stopped today, the impacts rippling across the country will continue. These conversations will be with us for the foreseeable future. Brainstorm now about how to continue advancing the conversation your organization is having with the community. Whatever the details of those conversations, the same rules apply: sharing actionable, relevant, unique information will earn the trust of those who rely upon you.
Does the tone of my message match the likely tone of other communications that consumers are receiving? In all scenarios, you must recognize that COVID-19 is coloring the way audiences will receive your message.
Imagine whatever you are saying in email, social media or any other platform, sandwiched between two messages regarding the outbreak. If it seems out of place, rework your message. If your message can’t be reworked, put it on hold until the situation stabilizes.
Am I communicating on autopilot? Now is the time to turn-off virtually every automation you’ve set up within your communications infrastructure.
A post, email or news release that was perfectly appropriate when written and scheduled may very well be perfectly inappropriate by the time it reaches the consumer. As the situation changes by the hour, the shelf life of information has been dramatically truncated.
While we don’t know when and we don’t know what will happen before it does, this storm will pass. By integrating proactive, transparent communication strategies into your business’s resiliency plan now, those who rely on you will remember that you were there when every other light was out.
Marina Monsisvais is the owner of Barracuda Public Relations. Based in Central El Paso’s Five Points neighborhood, the firm is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.