As so many of us find ourselves working from home, things that used to be only minor irritations have the potential to be disastrous. This past February, if storms disrupted power or internet service, it was mostly annoying and at worst, an inconvenience. But now with thousands of employees working from home and school districts around the country finishing the year online, such a situation could have a broader impact. Similar could be said for a breach of data and systems security or disruptions to the supply chain. The essential goods and services we may never have thought twice about before are top of mind now, as are the employees of the organizations that provide them.
While we’re in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis and managing communications accordingly, we can’t lose sight of what changes or “new normal” may be on the horizon that our messaging will need to address. Think of it as crisis communications planning while experiencing a crisis. Not building the plane as we fly it, but rather planning for what our plane might encounter next.
We must adapt quickly and plan for potential scenarios long before they occur. For example, COVID-19-related crisis communications for hospital systems focus on the volume of patients admitted, management of their care and its progress, and what steps the systems are doing to ensure the best possible outcome. But what if a hospital system, in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, fell victim to ransomware? What would that hospital need to say to its stakeholders to assuage concerns and fears?
Our job is to think of those obvious, and not-so-obvious, worse-case scenarios and preemptively craft strategic communications plans and messaging. “Preparation is key” is the sixth guideline in this public relations article on entrepreneur.com. We couldn’t agree more.
Further, we want to share an article by Ludo Van der Heyden, Institut Européen d’Administration des Affaires Emeritus Professor of Technology and Operations Management, and Peter Nathanial, Crisis Management Specialist and INSEAD Adjunct Professor. They provided a crisis management blueprint earlier this month that we highly recommend. Just one of many key take-aways is this: “Evaluate, learn and adapt efforts, as well as your leadership, as new information and feedback comes in.” For our team, the ability to pivot quickly and effectively has been vital to assisting clients through the COVID-19 crisis.
Our upcoming new, different reality may be hard to navigate for even the most experienced of us, which is all the more reason to prepare now for what may lie ahead. We are collecting best practices from all of our client work to ensure we have an arsenal of real-life scenarios we can use for future planning. This virus has tested our crisis reflexes, and we have done well. We encourage you to engage in scenario planning, listen for changes in customer sentiment and behavior, anticipate operational impact and adapt communications plans accordingly. The best way to handle a crisis is to be prepared.