The coronavirus has ripped through the globe like a wrecking ball: testing national health care systems and economies alike. But it’s also putting severe strain on many media and marketing departments: blowing them up or blowing them over.
The volume of crisis communications that are being prepared and sent to different stakeholders at the moment as a result of the coronavirus is enormous. It’s all about reassurance and brand protection, but do media departments know what they’re doing? And if they don’t, what risks are they exposing their organisations and brands to?
Consider the university sector. With a large proportion of overseas fee-paying students, you can see the enormous health and financial risks involved, and all the potential ramifications: on students, on university staff (general and academic), on local economies.
The groups a university has to produce communications for would include staff, research partners, local students, international students, vendors, industry stakeholders, political stakeholders, the academic community, the broader community.
Not only does this represent a problem of volume and capacity constraint for a media department – remembering media departments already have day-to-day plans and projects in train – it is also producing a problem of skill-sets.
The question for any organisation to ask is ‘does our media or marketing department have the right skills capacity to address the problems flowing from this crisis?’ Are they able to garner general support in the community for their plight or not? Do they know how to campaign for it? Are they looking after any potential victims, are they ahead of the story, are they taking precautions to protect their clients?
Crisis Media Consultants: the right skills
Think once again about stakeholders. Day-to-day a media team may be used to communicating with a particular group on a narrow set of issues, but what happens when we’re on more prickly terrain? What are we saying and what are we asking for? Are we making demands of a politician, or reassuring investors? How are we communicating to the community via the traditional media, or are we communicating directly with angry customers?
Being a Communications Manager or an Editor is of course invaluable in a normal mode of operation in a normal media team, but you need to draw upon an entirely different skill-set during a media crisis when emotions are high and the potential damage from a negative experience and story could be profound.
Organisations that try to muddle their way through any crisis, but particularly one this big, are taking enormous risks not just with capacity and resources but with their brand. A lack of experience in crisis communications protocols and tone can severely damage a brand that has taken years or decades to establish.
A media crisis demands a 360 degree view of all real or impending threats, a clearly identified plan for each contingency, a chain of command in communication, potential allies and stakeholders to go through the crisis with you, clear messaging, making actions congruent with the messaging, making decisions on whether to get ahead of the crisis with proactive stories for the media, or whether to utilise holding statements or Video News Releases in a reactive way, how to prepare for interview, whether to have an interview, how to use flagging statements, bridging statements, how to pivot, finding preferred media outlets.
These are just some of the tenets of a crisis media that can help organisations steer their way through a crisis. It’s important to realise that crisis media is a unique and critical media service.
Applicability and issues
Tourism, hospitality, sporting events, cultural events, aged care, disability care, schools, universities, the health care sector: any industry or sector in which people congregate in close physical contact is going to be directly impacted by the coronavirus.
And given most people work in close proximity to other humans and that the economy is interconnected, it’s hard to see what workplace or organisation won’t be impacted either directly or indirectly by the coronavirus.
Some of the potential pain points already identified include sick leave, lay-offs, and industrial provisions, hoarding, discontent around government stimulus, lack of spending, lack of revenue, lines of credit, financial viability of organisations.
These are just the most evident problems identified and each of those requires a different mode of communication, platform, and tone, with different stakeholders holding strong counter-views, e.g. on industrial relations matters, or social sympathy.
The coronavirus is far from working its way through the global health system and economy and organisations take enormous risks if they don’t take preventive measures to protect it.
One of the best forms of brand insurance you can take is to enlist crisis media and communication experts to help with your internal and external crisis communication.