If you’ve been following the news of COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019), you likely know what you should not be doing: panicking. But what should you be doing, especially as a business leader?
Employees, clients, customers and other stakeholders will look to you for information and guidance. Your organization’s response will impact corporate culture and employee morale. Consumers expect brands to be prepared, transparent and responsive during times of crisis or uncertainty. You have an opportunity to be there for your stakeholders and reinforce or gain their trust.
COVID-19 is a crisis now for many organizations, particularly those in healthcare, transportation and tourism, and companies that have already experienced supply disruptions. As the situation unfolds, COVID-19 may become an emerging crisis for others. However, there is much we still don’t know and can’t speculate about. As a business community, there is time to prepare our corporate response, but we cannot delay.
We do know that COVID-19 is an economic, as well as public health issue. The situation is changing rapidly, and companies must be prepared to act quickly to communicate with audiences and ensure business continuity. We’ve seen large scale interruptions and closures overseas, and we’re starting to see them at home.
Twitter and Google have asked employees to work remotely, making it mandatory in certain locations. In the U.S., professional services firm Ernst & Young has prohibited travel to “not-client-critical” events of more than 100 people and required review of employee requests to attend “client-critical” events. The company also requested that employees cancel or postpone internal meetings of more than 25 people or opt for remote solutions.
We’re starting to see cancellations of major business conferences and events such as Miami’s Ultra Music Festival, Facebook’s Global Marketing Summit and the American Physical Society’s annual meeting.
At Moore, we continuously review our crisis communications and business continuity plans. Currently, we’re communicating with our teams across all four office locations, ensuring that employees know to stay home if they’re sick. We’re monitoring travel and sharing information about hand washing and other health-related directives from reliable sources. We’re also discussing possible scenarios and outcomes as the situation evolves.
All organizations, regardless of size, should have a crisis communications plan and a business continuity plan for times like this. The two plans work together to help you navigate a crisis.
If you don’t have those plans yet, don’t panic. You don’t need a 40-page document to prepare your organization and people, but you can’t wait.
First, let’s talk about the difference between the two plans. A crisis communications plan is a roadmap for how and what you will communicate. At a minimum, it should include the following:
If you don’t have these plans ready now, you can still take meaningful action. Designate a team and a leader to develop and manage your response to COVID-19 or any future emerging crisis. Run through possible scenarios, actions and outcomes. We can’t prepare for every possibility but identifying scenarios and planning for them provides a starting point.
Discuss, for example, under what circumstances you would want employees to work from home? How would you communicate with employees and clients? What tools would employees need to work remotely? Do they all have access? If not, how are you going to get them access now? What would workflow look like? What meetings or events might be canceled? What disruptions would that create? What criteria will you use to make decisions on travel and events?
As a full-service marketing agency with expertise in crisis communications, we are here to help. From the Gulf Oil Spill to major data breaches to public health emergencies, Moore has the credentials and experience to ensure you, your employees and your bottom line are protected.
Smart leaders can use this as an opportunity to develop a plan that can be shelved once the COVID-19 threat has passed and dusted off for the next emerging issue. By having a plan, communicating with your stakeholders and refining the plan as necessary, you can get back to business. There’s no need for panic when you’re prepared.
And, most importantly, handshakes are so 2019. Rely on an elbow bump greeting. Or even better, a wave, bow, curtsey or jazz hands.