By now, your email inbox has likely been flooded with tips for keeping healthy and ensuring business continuity as the coronavirus situation unfolds.
We’ve spent the past three weeks counseling our clients on how to communicate what they’re doing to mitigate impacts of the virus – within their companies, among their own clients, and with the community. Now that we have a few minutes to breathe, we’re writing to share insights on what leaders of companies and organizations should be doing right now.
As a communications firm in Florida, we’ve got hurricane preparedness down to a science, but there’s no playbook or template for projecting calm and confidence in this moment, no manual for communicating effectively.
Amidst economic turbulence, tightening travel restrictions, and uncertainty surrounding the spread of the virus, it’s become clear that no business or government or nonprofit was properly equipped for the public health crisis evolving before our eyes.
We are beyond the point where a ‘business as usual’ message can suffice. It’s time for leaders to step up and take meaningful action to keep their communities healthy. That begins with smart, fact-based and consistent communications. Here are five things that every business leader should take to heart.
Leaders must communicate, and communicators must help lead
Now is not the time for CEOs and the C-suite to disappear. Employees, clients and stakeholders are craving information and want assurance that there’s a plan in place for riding out the storm. Start by embracing the advice of communications professionals. Let them into the decision-making process. No policy should be set without a clear understanding of what leadership is trying to achieve, how this position came to be, and how it will be communicated.
Accept that the game has changed
Everything your company or organization does for the foreseeable future – the events you host, social media posts you publish, and marketing emails you send – will be viewed through the prism of COVID-19. The virus has consumed our collective psyche and reshuffled social norms in a way we haven’t experienced for generations. Every decision must be made within the context of a public health crisis. Leaders have to ask themselves, ‘Is this the right message? The right timing? The right tone?’
Stick to the facts
Sometimes the most obvious advice proves to be the most elusive. The news that a major cruise line was instructing its sales staff to downplay the potential health effects of the virus illustrates how far some companies are willing to go to protect profits, even in life or death circumstances. Don’t fall into the trap. Demand excellence from your team and adhere to the highest standards of truth and transparency when it comes to communicating internally and externally.
Be part of the solution
Two weeks ago, Miami’s Downtown Development Authority approved funding to expand our city’s Pit Stop public restroom program. First conceived as a humane and sanitary solution for Miami’s homeless and an amenity for the district’s growing population of residents and visitors, the addition of new toilets and sinks is now poised to be a critical tool for keeping the neighborhood healthy. Point being, companies and organizations with a community-facing presence have an opportunity to leverage existing resources to promote public health and education.
Focus on the long game
The NBA season is suspended; March Madness is no more; Disney World is closing; Ultra Music Festival and South by Southwest were called off; the list goes on and on. Billions in consumer spending will be sacrificed in the name of public health, and that’s the way it should be. Now is not the time to take chances. The brands that come out of this crisis the strongest over the long-term will be those that are prepared to weather some short-term pain in exchange for building goodwill and doing the right thing in the eyes of employees, clients and the community.
Aaron Gordon is a partner at Miami-based Schwartz Media Strategies, an integrated communications firm specializing in media relations, digital marketing and crisis communications.