It’s never too late to start or update your crisis communications plan

Most of March—and the onset of COVID-19—still seems like a bad dream. In most countries around the world dealing with the pandemic, this is the most serious public health threat we’ve ever faced.

The threat of the deadly virus triggered public officials nationwide to encourage us to work from home if we could. It triggered “non-essential” businesses to close to “flatten the curve” and reduce the spread of the disease without a cure (at time of writing) and the risk of overwhelming healthcare systems.

Words like “stay at home” took on new meaning as our political leaders first asked and then sometimes ordered Americans to do so. Keeping our distance from others became a lifesaving coping mechanism that will continue for who only knows how long.

As we shifted to working from home, our overflowing commitments on calendars cleared. Our priorities changed. Meetings and events became virtual experiences, virtually testing the limits of the internet itself.

Especially in trying times like these, public relations professionals convey what could be lifesaving information. How are you weathering the storm?

In the absence of information, it’s human nature to fear or assume the worst. Without proactive, factual information, the rumor mill works overtime.

So, what’s a communicator to do in times like these? Step up your communication to meet audience needs and address them clearly and consistently.

Proactively provide the facts. Address the questions on the minds of your audience. Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know and follow up when you do have more information. Be real. Be empathetic. Be accessible. Convey complex information as clearly and consistently as possible in jargon-free language.

When people are scared, they often don’t hear as well as in less fearful times. They’re worried. They wonder what they can and should do. But often they don’t know where to start. Or who to trust. Or how to get information or help. Help them get through these troubling times.

It’s important to repeat key messages often to get your messages through. Make it easy for people to survive these trying times through clear, specific, intentional communication.

If you’ve ever wondered why it’s important to put time and thought into developing comprehensive crisis communications plans, you’re living in a real-life example. You’re seeing why it’s important to know your local, county, state and federal officials, and to have their contact information at your fingertips. It’s important to know how emergency operations work in a crisis in your community, your state and your country. And, it’s never too late to get started.

If you’ve vowed to get your crisis communications plan in order or updated, PRSA offers helpful resources to help you get started. Find them here.

To everyone in our chapter, our profession and the many vital industries and roles across the country who have helped people cope with the monstrous public health emergency, we thank you. We remain hopeful and optimistic that a vaccine for this mysterious virus will be on the horizon in the future, and that there will be better days ahead once we manage our way through this crisis.

When lives and livelihoods are on the line, our roles as public relations professionals have never been more important. Live up to the challenge. Stay safe. Stay strong. Stay well. And communicate as if your life and those you care about depends on it.

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