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Communicating During COVID-19

Hey guys - this will be quick and dirty because we all have a lot going on right now. 

I've been busy the last few days helping businesses navigate the current COVID-19 situation. I also know there are many small businesses or non-profit organizations who are very stressed right now because they do not have the money to hire a crisis or PR professional. Many are worried that they will not survive this - the economic climate is full of uncertainty.

My best advice for MOST small businesses right now is to:

1) Educate

Keep well informed of what is happening right now. Go to TRUSTED and CREDIBLE sources (some media, local authorities, governments or health care professionals) to know in real-time what decisions are being made that can potentially affect you and/or your stakeholders. Information is changing at an unprecedented speed, so you must monitor regularly and look for the most recent announcements. 

2) Anticipate

Given the information is moving and changing quickly, you need to start thinking about what COULD be next. Think through any potential situations that could arise that would affect you, your business and your stakeholders. This is not to create panic, but to be able to quickly adjust and respond to any potential scenario. Again, this changes quickly, so thinking through the "what-if's" could help you navigate the "oh crap's" if and when sh*t hits the fan for you.

3) Communicate

When you have thought through the "what if's," next be prepared to handle them. You need to know with full certainty the decisions you are going to make for each of those "what if's" and then you need to create your key messages, as well as address any potential frequently asked questions (FAQs).

Then, you need to get these messages and FAQ responses into the hands of your stakeholders. Who do you need to communicate with? Stop, think and make a list. Here's a start: staff, suppliers, clients/customers, media, family, vendors, etc.

When you have your list then you need to think HOW you will communicate. Social media, email blast, telephone, carrier pigeon - you get the idea. Then - do it. Communicate with them how you can.

4) Engage 

Once you post/send or share your first communication, be ready to follow up and engage with your stakeholders. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. Pay attention to them, and talk to them or respond as quickly as possible.

5) Listen

This is the most important thing you can do. LISTEN - your stakeholders will tell you what to do next. They will tell you what they expect from you. They will tell you what others are doing out there. They may tell you that you messed up. Good or bad; listen to them.

You may get your next best ideas from them. 

Which leads me to the final recommendation. 

6) Respond

Communication is a two-way street. You can't just tell someone something heavy or deep and then walk away from them. Well you can, but that's rude, right?!? It's like that old saying "don't leave me hanging." Keep the cycle of communication going until the situation feels resolved.

In Summary

In times of crisis, communication is one of the best things we can do. Keeping informed, engaged or even entertained can keep us connected and sharing levels of understanding, which is especially important during uncertain times. 

This is very simplified, and there are many amazing PR professionals out there who can help you through this. However, if you do not have the means to pay for expert help, please start with these six steps. I hope they help.

Stay safe. Stay healthy. Be kind.

Natalie Harper

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