The sudden onset of the coronavirus pandemic this spring caught most business owners and organizational leaders by surprise. Seemingly overnight, they were forced to make very important decisions, including how to keep their employees and volunteers working, whether to remain open to the public, and, in some cases, whether or not to trim payroll through layoffs, furloughs or salary reductions. It has been a stressful situation for those in both the public and private sectors.
TVG always recommends that clients have a crisis plan in place and to review/update it regularly. One function of an effective plan is to help a company or organization understand how to communicate with the media when a crisis occurs. The current COVID-19 pandemic is a stark reminder of the importance of being prepared for emergency situations.
When a crisis occurs and impacts your business or organization, how do you communicate with the media? What is it that the media is looking for? Based on my more than three decades as a journalist, I believe that there are several things that leaders should keep in mind when interacting with media outlets in times of crisis.
First and foremost, reporters are looking for facts, information, and details about what has occurred, why it happened and what an organization or company is doing as a result. It’s important to be as truthful and transparent as possible. Does that mean that you must release every bit of information, including confidential personnel data or protected health records? Absolutely not. But communicating what you know – and what the public needs to know – can help your company or organization move on and recover from the crisis more quickly.
The media is looking for a subject matter expert in situations like these, someone who can speak with authority about the issue, its impact and what residents, employees, and the public should do. The better prepared that you and your organization is to serve that role, the more advantageous it will be. Reporters will also want information on a timely basis, so within reason, you should attempt to communicate with the media as soon as you have confirmed the information that you plan to discuss.
The downsides of failing to communicate with the media – and thus, with the public – are several. It can make you look as if you’re hiding something, which could mean more prolonged coverage of the crisis. If you don’t answer the media’s questions in a timely manner, they will look for others to comment and that could result in erroneous information being shared; and, you may miss out on an opportunity to communicate your company’s or organization’s key messages.
TVG’s experienced crisis team helps our clients communicate with the media in the midst of a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as in calmer times. We help when there’s an immediate need for communications during a crisis, but we also do the work up front before a crisis happens by developing, updating and reviewing their crisis plans. Our training goes above and beyond by giving clients simulated crisis situations, and practice answering real-world questions from the press.
How is your organization holding up during the pandemic? If you need help navigating through this unprecedented time, contact us at 314-991-4641 or visit www.tvgpr.com.