Coronavirus is now everywhere. Global businesses are in the midst of creating and deploying organization-wide, multi-region communications strategies to update employees, customers and stakeholders on safety protocols and any business impact to date, as well as plans to move forward to limit ongoing or future impact. Meanwhile, the media are writing prolifically, and in need of examples from businesses – facts, anecdotes and storytelling – that will illustrate the impact.
With any crisis, there is a balancing act when it comes to communicating what is true, verifiable and helpful, without exploiting a negative situation for one’s own gain.
How adeptly businesses navigate this line with the media matters. Here are three strategies in communicating to the media amid a global crisis that will help position your business most successfully:
No. 1: Be truthful and authentic
There can be benefits to responding to media requests in times of crisis. Participating as a source for stories on coronavirus allows companies to set expectations with stakeholders, offset misconceptions or speculation and highlight changes in strategy. For instance, companies speaking to the media about policy changes to allow for remote work and cancelling non-critical travel to support employee health and safety not only helps spread the word to their own stakeholders, but sets the company up as a leader, giving potential stakeholders and other business leaders benchmarks and ideas on how they can react. In this Business Insider piece, many large retailers spoke to the impact on their businesses while quelling panic and highlighting the preparedness of their organizations. One solid example of positioning a company as prepared for crisis was executed by Macy’s CEO here: «We expect a slowdown of products coming from China, but nothing concerning yet… This is an example of where the tariff situation over the last 18 months really gave us a clear line of sight into China and suppliers.»
No. 2: Message from the top
Your C-Suite is best positioned to deliver credible messaging on the impact of coronavirus to business, and on the well-being of employees. This story in the Verge on Twitter allowing all employees to work remotely is one good example, spurred by a tweet from Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. Clearly communicating the importance of employee well-being and safety in a time of crisis can pay dividends in recruiting and retention of employees. (Obvious disclaimer: So long as it’s true!)
Additionally, this example of Coinbase posting its coronavirus action plan online was referenced in the Wall Street Journal and included this quote from CISO Philip Martin: “We hope to help other companies that are trying to navigate this situation and to encourage a calm, rational approach.”
To avoid missteps, businesses must make sure they communicate clearly to employees before going public about their company’s stellar response, rather than risk negative coverage like this story: “Walmart and Amazon truck drivers say their employers haven’t provided guidance about how to deal with coronavirus.”
No. 3: Only talk product if asked or if genuinely helpful
Product news must be pitched with caution during a crisis. Reporters don’t respond well to companies that appear to be exploiting the Coronavirus solely for their own gain.
However, there are many of examples of positive coverage for companies offering actually valuable tools and services free of charge that assist coronavirus-impacted people, organizations and workplaces.
Zoom, followed by Cisco and Google, has offered free service enhancements to existing customers and free service to non-customers. This was picked up across tech and business media.
Your efforts to communicate during coronavirus can be greatly amplified by the media. Make sure you are offering useful, authentic information from your leadership team. If what you are sharing can help your stakeholders and beyond, that will come through in the coverage. If it can’t, sit this one out.