The coronavirus pandemic is dominating feeds and sparking fears across the globe. It’s virtually impossible to avoid discussing.
For leaders in the limelight, it’s critical they know how to (and not to) talk about it. One gaffe in front of employees, investors—or worse, the media—could have lasting damage. As professional communicators, we’d like to offer some guidance here. For starters, let’s clarify the terminology:
- The virus in this outbreak is named SARS-CoV-2. The disease it causes is named COVID-19.
- Just like HIV causes AIDS, SARS-CoV-2 causes COVID-19.
Next, let’s breakdown some best practices for PR and marketing amidst this crisis:
- Use alarming or provocative language that can exaggerate or misrepresent the facts such as, “the planet needs fewer people anyway”
- Make jokes, memes, or puns about the pandemic that can downplay the gravity of the situation
- Try to capitalize on the pandemic in disingenuous ways, as that will surely bruise your reputation in the long run
- Be empathetic and acknowledge that a new disease outbreak spurs fear and anxiety for many; Use a less formal tone that is reassuring and caring.
- Keep it short, as brevity is best during a crisis
- Communicate often–internally and externally; It’s better to over-communicate, especially because the news cycle is evolving so rapidly.
- Check-in regularly with employees who are having to homeschool their children; Realize that you are both in unprecedented territory and need to talk often and openly to set realistic, mutual expectations during this time.
- Reference only reputable sources, including Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and the WHO, and explain when the data was collected and what it’s specifically measuring
- Double-check everything as misinformation can be especially damaging during a crisis
And while we’re on the topic, we’d like you to know we take the coronavirus pandemic seriously. Like many companies, we’ve asked all of our employees to work remotely and we’ve suspended all business travel. We’re reassessing the situation on a weekly basis.
We felt this was the right move because we have a social responsibility to help contain any further infection, and do whatever we can to keep our employees protected. We’re also advising all of our clients to forgo any group events for the time being, such as media dinners or speaking engagements.
No doubt, these are stressful times. But the faster we can work together to contain the outbreak, the sooner we can get back to business as usual. In the meantime, please remember we’re here for you and always happy to help. Stay healthy, everyone!