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OCPRSA Best Practices for COVID-19 (coronavirus) Communications

COVID-19By the time you’re halfway through this blog post, we expect the COVID-19 situation will have evolved. This pandemic is certainly pulling all the levers in communication pros’ repertoire. Whether you’re just starting your career or a seasoned pro, sharing best practices can keep us sharp and innovative. Here are a few we hope you will find helpful no matter where you are in your comms strategy:

Be flexible, available and proactive

With the coronavirus, we have to able to shift gears at any moment’s notice. Keep your phone on, check your emails and voicemails regularly and if you see something that impacts your industry, company or client in the news, inform leadership and suggest a course of action be it a reactive media statement, proactive press release or social media post.

Silence is NOT golden

People want to hear from you. Communicating your measures to handle the crisis will help diffuse its impact at the community level. Sharing facts in real time, rather than waiting until you have all the answers, will go a long way towards encouraging trust.

At the same time…

Approach each opportunity strategically

Some inquiries may simply be fishing expeditions. You don’t have to respond to every request. But if you do, make sure you’re clear about how your organization could be positioned in a story and provide counsel. A media statement? Emailed responses? Actual interview? Consider each request individually and thoughtfully.

Your leadership “voice” is important

People are looking for a measured, authoritative “voice” to tell them: 1. what has happened, 2. what is being done to fix it, 3. that this situation will not go on forever, and 4. what we can do in the meantime. Be careful to not overstep your role (e.g. offer medical assessments and advice, especially if you’re not a healthcare expert!), and remember it’s your voice that’s important here.

Consider all audiences and all platforms

It’s not just media. Think about your customers, the community, government officials, and other key stakeholders. Remember to tailor your message to your audience and use all the digital and social media channels available to you – Twitter, your website, Instagram, YouTube, email – everything.

Adhere to social media and media response policies

Speaking of social media channels, make sure you have and share your social media policy. Remind employees and other internal stakeholders not to post internal documents or materials. As their connection with your organization could be construed as an official statement, ask them not to respond to media inquiries. Make sure the policy and protocol are clear. A consistent voice is key.

Streamline the approval process

Shorten the input and review process for certain messages and tactics. Depending on the urgency, that process might only be your communications person and the organization’s leader, instead of multiple stakeholders and partners. While this is not a normal way of operating, it is critical so that stakeholders and surrounding communities get the timely information they need.

COVID-19 resources for comms pros

OC Health Care Agency coronavirus page

County of Los Angeles Public Health coronavirus page

Centers for Disease Control

World Health Organization

AP Stylebook COVID-19 guidance

National PRSA Communications during COVID-19 webinar series:
• Wednesday, March 25 External Communications
• Thursday, March 26 Internal Communications
• Friday, March 27, Digital Communications

Connect with OCPRSA to share your best practices, or if need help with your COVID-19 your communications strategy and tactics, your fellow OCPRSA members are here to help. As this situation is fluid, we anticipate this is just the first in a series of coronavirus-related blog posts, so stay tuned.

Most importantly, stay safe and healthy!

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