Advice from the experts in communicating in a crisis

Advice from the experts in communicating in a crisis

Practical advice on crisis communications

The COVID-19 pandemic takes us into unchartered territory. More than ever we need cool heads making calm, considered decisions, and those decisions must be communicated clearly. Telum caught up with experts from across the PR and Communications industry with extensive crisis communications management experience about communicating during a crisis. 

Campbell Fuller, Head of Communications, Insurance Council of Australia

Campbell Cooney, Insurance Council of AustraliaThe more those around you are infected with uncertainty and panic, and the more this spreads, the more professional communicators need to be cool-headed, rational voices for their organisations.
Though the impact of COVID-19 is extraordinary, core crisis management principles remain effective. Most plans would not have anticipated a pandemic and business-wide shutdowns, but much of this work will remain relevant. Corporate affairs teams must be empowered to develop messages and act swiftly and accurately where they judge it's appropriate using credible spokespeople. Be the trusted voice. Monitoring is essential - watch traditional and social media and listen to the public and politicians. Respond to concerns with relevant, accurate and consistent information. Show empathy and understanding.
Try to counter falsehoods that appear in influential channels. Know that if you aren’t speaking, someone else is, often with incorrect or irrelevant information. Look over the horizon. Think several steps ahead, using the best knowledge and experience at your disposal. Hope for the best and prepare for the worst.
Keep communicating with your organisation’s leadership team and your own team through regular short teleconferences. Provide advice, fearlessly. And look after your most important stakeholders - your staff.
Campbell Fuller is Head of Communications with the Insurance Council of Australia, and has been a crisis and issues communication specialist for two decades. He helped meat industry group Australian Pork Ltd manage the swine flu crisis in 2009.

Robyn Sefiani, CEO and Founder of Sefiani Communications Group

Robyn Sefiani, Sefiani Communications Group
Communicate bad news swiftly, factually and with empathy by the CEO as done well by Alan Joyce at Qantas.
Keep people informed by announcing measures on how business is supporting customers, employees and wider society: supermarkets have announced further limits on packaged products purchase; KFC has announced social distancing and no dine-in.
Have a single point of truth: be clear and consistent with facts and update information as the situation evolves and new information comes to hand. People are anxious and looking for trusted experts to tell them what to do.
Adapt to disruption: use technology and communication channels right for the situation.
Look for opportunities to share your expertise to help others, which will serve you well in the longer term;
Plan for the road to recovery even though that may be six months away.

Justin Stolarski, Senior Manager, Weber Shandwick

Justin Stolarski, Weber Shandwick
One of the essential things a company needs to do in times of a crisis is ensure accurate and efficient messaging is being shared to employees and stakeholders.
The more time that passes during an issue without accurate communication, the more likely employees will begin to assume the worst, partners will panic, and incorrect information will be disseminated to media and stakeholders.
It’s critical that the flow of information comes from one designated source and it continues to be updated regularly. Internally, it allows employees to differentiate between fact and fiction. Externally, it ensures all parties are sharing the same information in the same manner, keeping stories consistent. As news breaks, senior executives should be alerted to news via a phone tree, followed up by an email or internal message to staff. This is an effective way to quickly share approved information across a large number of employees with accuracy.
As with any communications, ensure that only authorised individuals speak to partners, stakeholders and media to ensure messaging stays accurate across both internal and external channels

Rory Chevalier, opr Agency Health Crisis Communications expert

Rory Chevalier, oprIn the last couple of weeks, people have sought information on COVID-19 from a whole range of sources, from the ABC’s Dr Norman Swan to dubious "news" channels on social media.

When people don’t exactly know where to turn in a crisis, they’re often swayed by unqualified and factually wrong sources, creating unnecessary anxiety and panic in the community, as we’ve seen.

What people need in a time of crisis is a trusted and reliable "single source of truth" to turn to and this needs to be established and tested in the community well before a crisis actually occurs.

For example, one master website and a single figurehead that people already know and trust, who can lead them through a crisis with confidence. That person must be able to translate complex issues into simple and relatable words and examples that everyone can understand and then act on.

When a crisis does happen, it’s essential to combat uncertainty head-on, and to frequently maintain that connection and trust. It’s important to give as much information as you have access to, and be open about what you don’t know. Do it regularly and be forthcoming about your expectations for the future based on what you know, even if that is likely to change.

Above all in a crisis, remember you are dealing with people’s raw feelings and emotions that are significantly higher compared to normal rational thought processes. So always deliver your messages with honesty, empathy and heart.

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