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  • Writer's pictureYolanda King Stephen

Communicating During Covid – Or Any Other Crisis

Grab your capes my public relations and communications friends. This pandemic has presented a major crisis for businesses and organizations around the country. If this crisis is happening with you on the outside of it then you’re in the wrong place, my friend. I’m hoping you grabbed your cape way back in February or March and have been right in the center of the action. If not, that’s fine. Hopefully the information below will give you some insight into crisis communication.

It’s times like these that leaders may not know they need our strategic minds and communication superpowers until a crisis erupts. Now, we have to keep the keys in the Batmobile because the bat signal is liable to come anytime of the day or night. Here is how you can show your superpowers to leaders so they take your knowledge, skills, and abilities seriously even after the crisis is over: 1. BAM! Understand the type of crisis: Is it immediate, shouldering, or sustained? When you look at the cyclone of nationwide issues – race relations, election choices, a pandemic – it’s like BAM! the crisis communication perfect storm. Which one is immediate to your business, which one is coming around the corner, and which one feels like it is here to stay? How are you and your team dealing with each? There could be different crises in the fire and you can’t let one drop.

2. KAPOW! Be perceptive: Know what the climate is like in the nation and in your community. Understand how that climate translates into your business or school community. Surveys are a quick and easy way to gauge perception landmines and Kapow! your audiences so they know you are listening to their concerns. That only works if you plan to implement changes based on their feedback. Nonetheless, having something to work from, like data from survey results instead of random comments from Facebook posts or a Facebook group, can give you an easier guide to pandemic planning.

3. PLOP! Be prepared: Plop right down at your desk each morning or in your comfy chair after hours and watch the news and/or read articles that can provide understanding into issues that may be arising. It may help you see a direction change based on current issues and information. Use various news sources, not just one or two. Know and recognize different angles and how it may impact your school district or business. You have to be able to speak to the now and the future so you are prepared with any pre-planning strategies available.

4. SWOOSH! Know your role: Any good organization has a crisis team. Even if you haven't met in a few years, there should still be one! Typically, it's more than one person so you shouldn't take the brunt of planning. You should be able to swoosh right on in as the Public Relations or Communications representative to help create talking points, prepare press releases and statements, organize press conferences, and manage website, social media, and traditional media media. Quick tip: Know who owns what function in your organization and be prepared to pull them into the communications conversation if you don’t work directly with executive leadership.

5. WHAM! Look Inside First: Do not forget your internal audience during the crisis communication process - or any communication process. They should be the first to know as they are your first audience. They will be able to speak your message in their spheres of influence. Who knows? Later on, wham!, it can help build goodwill when it’s needed from employee groups.

6. BLOOP! Manage your time: It’s important to understand how much time it takes you to complete a task. Before Covid, I would keep a running list of how long it took me to manage my work assignments - social media, press releases, measurement, website, video creating and editing, etc. This comes in handy because I understand the use of time and resources needed to complete an assignment in traditional work mode. Bloop!, when I'm in crisis work mode, I know I have to push some assignments to the side and kick other duties up a notch. Stay organized and manage your time wisely to keep your sanity.

7. SPLATT! Remain ethical: We are in the time of the 24-hour news cycle. Most times, it's even faster than that with the onslaught of social media and citizen journalism. If you want people to trust you and your school district, you have to be honest, transparent, and provide timely information. Splatt!, during any crisis, you may be asked to share skewed information, faulty numbers, ‘spin’ information, or downright lie. Know your ethical boundaries because what you stand for will follow you throughout your career. Figure out what you can say and say that. If it’s a problem and the district messed up, admit it and move on. People will be mad, upset, hurt, etc., but at least you can start the repair process. You have a fiduciary responsibility to the profession, yourself, and the publics you serve to give them truthful information.

Let’s be clear. Now is an opportune time for you to exercise your expertise. Own what you know. Own what you bring to the table. When the crisis communication bat signal calls, be prepared to jump behind the driver’s seat in the Batmobile and race to save the day.

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