As businesses are readying themselves for potential effects of the Coronavirus, we wanted to share some best practice advice on preparing your communications.  We hope this helps, and we are here to help and guide you should you need further advice.

If Coronavirus hits your business

While HR may handle all internal comms, one single source of information is best for external comms. And this needs to be linked of course to what you say internally for absolute clarity.  Your website is best placed to host a press statement and all other communications, such as social media alerts, can drive people to one page on the site.

Honest and robust information is always best.  When a situation goes live, things move quickly, so be ready to regularly update your comms.    People know this and will understand that actions and information your end may change daily or more frequently.

Social media and community management

Review all pre-planned social media.  Check there is nothing scheduled that is going to be remotely jarring with what’s happening.  Depending on the scale of the situation, you may choose to put all other outward facing social media (and/or broader marketing) on hold.  If in doubt, this is best.

Your social media feeds can very quickly become the first place the public will go to for information.  Ensure your most experienced team members are on-hand.  An ill-judged or careless post can be very damaging.   Prepared responses and scenario planning can really help here.   On social, it’s also very easy to get dragged into debate – try and avoid this. Directing people to the website for the full information is a good way to prevent this.

Also, take a moment to review your social media policy – ensure your team know to keep their personal comments and thoughts offline.

Stakeholders and wider engagement

Ensure your stakeholder engagement plan is robust and ready to go.  Consider contact details and knowing who in the business is best placed to contact which stakeholder, and at what point.  Stakeholders could include the local community, suppliers, board members, investors, industry bodies, retailers, customers, politicians and partner brands.

Getting the internal comms right

Internal communication is just as important as external – if not more important. Comms teams and HR need to be fully aligned on this.  Remember an unsettled employee can very quickly ad-lib when talking to others outside of the workplace.  Calm, measured and regular updates to staff are best – this is the simplest way to control the narrative with your teams.

Preparation is everything

Although we may not know exactly how the Coronavirus will play out in the coming weeks, one thing we do know, is that preparation around communication is everything.  Do as much planning as you can now, even if the plan might change later down the road.  If you can, agree it, have it ready, signed off by all those in the chain, and ideally rehearsed.  And although we cannot prepare for every scenario – there are several things we can do…

  1. Have the crisis team ready – with clear agreements on roles & responsibilities, contact details and a Skype / Zoom equivalent tested and ready to go for remote working.
  2. Agree a chain of command with 1-2 agreed decisionmakers.  Should one of these decisionmakers not be available, you need to ensure at least one other person is able to make quick decisions; when a situation is live, there may not be time for a full board to agree every action.
  3. There may be a situation where product recall is involved, should one or more production employees be diagnosed as a live case. At the moment there is no evidence of how the virus might be transferred this way, but it is worth checking your product recall strategies should this change.
  4. Ensure you have all aspects of the business involved in the crisis team – including operations, comms, social media and HR.  The communication team needs first-hand information in order to provide the best advice when it comes to communicating the information onwards and outwards.
  5. Consider your resource – depending on the size of your business, you may want to have additional resource on hand ready to support your in-house teams.  They too will need to be brought in early enough to prepare.  This can be useful if considering 24 hour cover.
  6. Some businesses are openly testing all staff for the virus, with a view to ensuring continuity of business, staff health and welfare, and customer reassurance if required – as the responsible thing to do, and potentially a part of a crisis communication strategy should it be needed.